LETCHWORTH STATE PARK — As the economy shut down last year and remained hard-hit by COVID-19 restrictions, people flocked to New York’s state parks.
The extra visitors provided a boost which broke the previous state record, according to state data released Tuesday.
The numbers show a historic 78 million people visiting the state park system during 2020. That surpassed the earlier record of 77.1 million visitors in 2019.
It also marked a 34 percent increase — or 20 million people — compared to 2011.
“In what has been a tremendously difficult year, our state parks have remained open for residents and visitors to enjoy, get out of the house and stay active,” said Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul in a news release. “As we re-imagine New York for the post-pandemic future, we will continue to improve our state parks to not only provide more recreational opportunities for New Yorkers, but also boost our local downtowns and regional tourism economies across the state.”
The closures and limitations set on theaters, restaurants, amusement parks, carnivals and similar venues channeled large crowds to parks statewide. Letchworth State Park, in particular, was forced to turn away new visitors on several occasions after reaching its capacity limit.
As big as the crowds were, the overall increase might have also been limited by the pandemic precautions. State officials said occupancy limits and social distancing requirements at public beaches, historical sites, trailheads and similar areas reduced capacity somewhat, while concerts and festivals — traditionally a major draw — were also canceled.
The annual Letchworth Arts and Crafts Show & Sale was among them. The annual Arts Council for Wyoming County fundraiser draws tens of thousands of people in a typical year, but was canceled because there was no practical way to adhere to safety and social distancing regulations.
“New York’s State Parks system has long offered compelling attractions for visitors and residents alike in a safe and socially responsible setting,” said New York State Executive Director of Tourism Ross D. Levi in the release. “Last year provided families with the perfect opportunity to rediscover the natural beauty and world-class amenities of our state parks in their own backyard, and more visitors than ever before chose to experience what people from around the world have raved about for years.”