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September 19, 2018

Fort Ontario Attendance Jumps in Wake of Threat of Closing


Sparks fly as a trio from the Continental Arm and Collector’s Association, representing the 1st New York Regiment of 1781, fire their rifles during a demonstration at Fort Ontario.

Sparks fly as a trio from the Continental Arm and Collector’s Association, representing the 1st New York Regiment of 1781, fire their rifles during a demonstration at Fort Ontario.

Maybe the old song is right — you don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone.  The threat of being closed for a year seems to have driven people to Fort Ontario after its delayed opening.

Numbers from the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation show that the historic fort’s attendance is up 21% through the third week of June, as compared to the same period last year.

And that’s in spite of this fact: Fort Ontario was closed for a while this year when it was supposed to be open.

Some state parks closed or opened with reduced services this spring because state lawmakers had not agreed to a state budget and Governor David Paterson ordered cuts in all state departments while the budget battle went on.

The closing of Fort Ontario caused an uproar. Eventually, state lawmakers came up with a plan to fund all state parks and Fort Ontario opened.

Through the third week of June, Fort Ontario has had 20,869 visitors. That’s up from 17,294 visitors from the same period last year.

“Parks have been in the news the last couple of weeks or months and I think people may be rediscovering some of their local parks,” said Eileen Larrabee, spokeswoman for the state parks department. She said that excellent weather and a poor economy also help drive people to state parks.

Other parks have recorded strong increases. Green Lakes State Park near Syracuse, the region’s largest state park, is up 18%. Verona Beach State Park is up 64%. Delta Lake State Park near Rome is up 60%. Fair Haven State Park is up 27%.

Oswego County’s two other state parks, Battle Island Golf Course and Sandy Island Beach State Park, are up 8%. Traffic is down through the Mexico Point Boat Launch, by 5%.

But not all of the threatened parks rebounded as well as Fort Ontario. Attendance at Selkirk Shores State Park in Port Ontario is down 9%. The initial plan called for the park to open, but with no public swimming. Lifeguards have since been restored to the park. Fair Haven’s Springbrook Greens golf course, which did not open on time, is down 62%. The golf course may not recover from its losses. Golf leagues scheduled to play there were forced to find other homes when the course was shut down.

In the Central Region of the state parks system, exactly half of the 22 parks have recorded increases. Overall, attendance at parks in the Central Region is up 15%. That’s slightly higher than the statewide increase.

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