A major reconstruction is being planned at the main entrance to Watkins Glen State Park, one of the region's signature attractions.
A major reconstruction is being planned at the main entrance to Watkins Glen State Park, one of the region’s signature attractions.
The state has earmarked $5 million for the project, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday.
The funding is part of $90 million set aside for improvements at state parks and historic sites under the New York Works initiative in the 2014-15 state budget passed earlier this month in Albany, according to Cuomo.
The project at Watkins Glen State Park has two main focuses, said Fred Bonn, Finger Lakes state parks director.
The first priority is to alleviate the traffic congestion and parking shortages that often occur at the main entrance on Franklin Street/State Route 14 in downtown Watkins Glen during the busy summer months, Bonn said.
The other main objective is to enhance the appearance of the main entrance, he said.
“We’re looking at what we can do to make the streetscape more prominent, so there’s a little bit more curb appeal for the park on Franklin Street – so when you drive up, you recognize this as a state park facility,” Bonn said.
Some new interpretive displays may be added at the main entrance, with disabled visitors in mind, he added.
“We want to bring the story of the gorge to a spot at the main entrance to allow people who may have mobility concerns a level of appreciation for what the gorge represents,” Bonn said.
Also as part of the project, park management are considering changes to the park’s uppermost entrance off Station Road/Route 409, where tour buses often drop off visitors.
The project is still in the preliminary design phase, and state parks officials have been meeting with consultants. The idea is to finish the design work this year, with construction next summer, Bonn said.
The project had been talked about for several years and is crucial for downtown Watkins Glen, said Schuyler County Administrator Tim O’Hearn.
“I’m thrilled to hear they finally secured the funding to do it,” O’Hearn said. “It will help relieve congestion and certainly beautify the gateway to the village, and it recognizes the importance of the park as one of the state’s biggest tourist attractions.”
“We’re seeing a big increase in tour buses, not only at the state park, but some of the other destinations in the village, the boat tours, that sort of thing. This couldn’t have come at a better time,” O’Hearn added. “We’re bursting at the seams, and this will certainly help accommodate increased growth in the tourism industry for the county.”
Watkins Glen State Park had 632,140 visitors in 2013, Bonn said.
After years of tight budgets during the recession, Cuomo has told parks officials the state will earmark $90 million annually over five years for capital projects.
“The governor is a huge advocate of state parks, seeing them as an opportunity for residents to gather and meet and recreate, as well as an economic generator for tourism,” Bonn said.