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• New York state park attendance rose by over 400,000 visitors between 2020 and 2021. And 2020 had already set an all-time high for state park attendance.
• An expert said the record figure may have to do with people wanting to be together outside during the pandemic.
In a late January press release, New York State Sen. Rob Ortt touted the attendance figures at New York state parks during 2021.
"With the ongoing pandemic, our State Park attendance is at the highest it’s ever been," Ortt said in a Jan. 22 press release. In the press release, Ortt was urging Gov. Kathy Hochul and Erik Kulleseid, commissioner of the state office of parks, recreation, and historic preservation to end a hiring freeze for park police.
Ortt’s statement caught our eye because many types of travel have been reduced since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in March 2020.
It turns out that Ortt was correct. (His office did not respond to an inquiry.)
Ortt made the statement before Hochul publicly announced the state’s new park attendance figures. In a subsequent press release, Hochul said that New York state parks had hit record-high attendance levels in 2021, breaking the record set during the previous year, 2020. (The state lists attendance at state parks on its website going back to 2003.)
New York state parks had more than 78.4 million visitors in 2021, an increase of just over 427,000 from the 2020 level of just over 78 million. In turn, the 2020 figure increased by about 910,000 over the 2019 level.
Park attendance has increased consistently in recent years. In fact the state has not seen an annual decrease in park attendance since 2013.
That said, the annual increases during the pandemic were smaller than the increases prior to the pandemic. For instance, between 2018 and 2019, the state parks’ attendance increased by over 2.9 million visitors, year over year. And between 2017 and 2018, state park attendance increased by over 2.6 million visitors.
Why, even with the pandemic, have increases continued?
Measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 are believed to have kept state park attendance increasing during the pandemic, which began in March 2020.
Jason Schnittker, a professor of sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, said he believes parks allowed people to socialize while feeling safe from getting infected.
"State parks are open-air, inexpensive, large and easy to social distance within, and very attractive in summer, fall, winter, and spring. At some point, the urge to get out of the house was overwhelming," Schnittker said. "I also suspect many people went to parks with someone else — as in an appropriately social distanced social event — and social support is very good for mental and physical health. It's not good to be isolated in your apartment all the time."
He added that the increase in attendance provided multiple benefits. "Getting out in nature can be very relaxing, even for those who are not outdoor enthusiasts," he said. "The other dimension is exercise. Even moderate exercise, like walking or hiking, is good for your health."
Ortt said, "With the ongoing pandemic, our State Park attendance is at the highest it’s ever been."
Official numbers show that New York state park attendance hit a record in 2021, after hitting a record in 2020. This record was set despite reduced travel during the pandemic, although the desire to congregate outside may have served to boost park attendance as COVID-19 was circulating.
We rate this statement True.
Governor Kathy Hochul, Governor Hochul Announces Another Record Year for State Parks in 2021, February 8, 2022.
New York State, Annual Attendance at State Parks Facilities Chart.
Email interview with Jason Schnittker, a sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, February 22, 2022.
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