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u-NY-que: the Power of New York State Parks

Geography Awareness Week (GAW) will be celebrated officially on November 13-19, 2016. The theme this year is the Power of Parks. This is the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. The New York Geographic Alliance will be holding our GeoFest 2016 Conference on Sat. Nov. 19th, and several workshops will feature lessons and activities about parks, especially those that can be visited here in our state. 

Everyone knows the big national parks of the West - Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and Yellowstone. There are units of the National Park Service here in New York, although most of them are historic - Saratoga, Statue of LIberty, and the Women's Rights National Park. There are all important, and we highly recommend them. What makes New York "u-NY-que" is our state parks and historic sites, and that is what we want to discuss in this article. 

There are 180 state parks and 38 historic sites in New York. They serve many functions. Some are primarily recreational (swimming, boating, golfing, etc.). Some commemorate important events in our history, like the Oriskany Battlefield or important preservations, like Sonnenberg Gardens in Canandaigua. Many allow the public to see beautiful scenery that would not be accessible otherwise, i.e. Clark Reservation near Syracuse or Watkins Glen. They all have one primarily goal - to celebrate the incredible diversity of the Empire State. 

Did you know that the oldest state park in the country is the Niagara Reservation? Did you know it was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead, who also landscaped Central Park? Before the state created this public place, Niagara Falls was overcommercialized, in danger of losing its awesome presence. There are other "firsts" for New York State Parks. The largest park in the Lower 48 is the Adirondack Park. It is much larger than Yellowstone or Rocky Mountains NP. The Adirondack Park was created to preserve the forests of Northern New York, that had been overlogged in the late-1800s. Our state constitution mandates that this mighty park be "Forever Wild." It is one of the few places you can go in the East to be alone with trees, mountains, and lakes. And did you know that we have the "Best State Park" - Letchworth? It hugs a wild section of the Genesee River, with a beautiful gorge and three powerful waterfalls. It was the home of William Pryor Letchworth. He almost single-handedly saved this beautiful place, making him one of the first real conservationists of his time. 


Photos (L to R): Water tumbling over rocks beneath Niagara Falls, Glen Iris Inn (Home of William P. Letchworth), View of Montauk Pt. Light House on the tip of Long Island.


This is why the New York Geographic Alliance wants to celebrate our state parks in 2016. We consider them to be the Soul of the Empire State. We are proud of history and protective of our wild places. During times of financial difficulty, some politicians try to cut back on park services, and they even try to close some of them down. New Yorkers resist these questionable cost-saving plans. You cannot put a price on the value of our state parks. We have an obligation to pass our legacy on to future generations. As educators, our NYGA members take their students to parks and historic sites. They serve as places of living history and as laboratories of environmental education. 

This fall get out and see New York State Parks. Enjoy the gorges of the Finger Lakes, or the beaches of Long Island and the Great Lakes. Learn about the American Revolution in the Hudson Valley and Native American culture at Ganandagon State Historic Site. Walk through historic locks from the Old Erie Canal. And, since geography is NOT an indoor activity, take your students or your own children with you.


Statue of Seneca family at Ganondagan State Historic Site (Victor, NY); View from Bear Mountain with Hudson River in background, and the Schoharie Aqueduct in the Mohawk Valley.