Goat Island soon will open a new information center, comfort station and electric-vehicle charging station.
A new pro shop with a bar and restaurant – complete with a large, outdoor seating area – is coming later this year to Beaver Island Golf Course on Grand Island.
And Quaker Beach in Allegany State Park is getting a new bath house with an eco-themed playground and an improved concession stand.
These projects are included in $14 million the state budget provides for 13 state parks projects in Western New York, including about $4.4 million for Niagara Falls State Park.
The current project at the Niagara Falls State Park includes parking lot renovations on Goat Island and the mainland, as well as new LED lighting and a new parking payment system that will greet visitors by the time the summer season begins.
Among park visitors who had to find their way around silver construction fences and a parade of dump trucks was Kathryn Myrtle-Bennett, a Falls native who lives in Meredith, N.H. She visited the Falls this week with her 20-year-old son, Dylan.
As the pair walked around Goat Island near Terrapin Point, 50 yards from the construction crews, Myrtle-Bennett said she comes back every five years or so to the place she called “majestic.”
“If this is going to make it better, I’ll be back in five years and I’ll be glad to see what they’ve done,” she said.
Outside of Niagara Falls, another $9.5 million is set aside for other parks projects, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office announced earlier this week.
“The NY Parks 2020 projects announced will not only help fix and restore aging park infrastructure but also enhance our environment, connect people to healthy, active outdoor recreation and energize local economies,” Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey said in a written statement.
NY Parks 2020 is Cuomo’s pledge to invest roughly $900 million in public and private dollars into the state parks system between 2011 and 2020.
Visitors at the Falls – the state’s most-visited park and biggest revenue generator – are in the midst of seeing $40 million in renovation projects. It was an ice-covered construction zone this past winter.
During the state’s last fiscal year – which ran from April 2014 until the end of March – state parks in Erie and Niagara counties pulled in $18.2 million in revenue, up 12 percent over the previous year, according to the agency. All but about $2.1 million was generated in Niagara Falls State Park.
The latest round of funding includes $2.9 million for work in Allegany State Park, including $1.7 million in road repairs and the new $1.2 million bath house on Quaker Lake. The bath house project will include private shower areas, family-style restrooms, a new first aid facility, a room for special events, as well as more landscaping and tree cover.
The new $2 million pro shop in Beaver Island State Park will replace the one destroyed by fire in 2012. Work on that project is scheduled to start this fall.
Fort Niagara State Park will get a new $2.5 million bath house next to its swimming pool.
The project is still in the design phase, but will include toilets, showers and a lifeguard station.
Other work planned in the region includes $75,000 for bear-proof food lockers in Cain Hollow campground at Allegany State Park; $400,000 to repair roads at DeVeaux Woods in the Falls; $250,000 for road resurfacing at Evangola; $250,000 for repairs to historic structures at Knox Farm; $225,000 to replace a vacant administrative building at Lake Erie State Park; $300,000 for the installation of 12 camping yurts at Four Mile Creek, Golden Hill and Evangola; $600,000 for fishing access projects at Artpark, Fort Niagara, Four Mile Creek, Golden Hill and Wilson-Tuscarora; and $200,000 for masonry repair at Old Fort Niagara.
Back at Niagara Falls State Park, the utility upgrades in the works since the winter will wind up costing about $5.6 million.
The new comfort station and information center on Goat Island, a $1.4 million project, will triple the amount of restrooms in that area of the Falls park.
In terms of the parking changes, drivers will no longer pay as they enter the park. Instead, they’ll get a ticket and may either pay at a kiosk in the park or as they exit in their vehicles.
In addition, Delaware North is redoing the façade on the Pavilion Building in the Cave of the Winds Plaza as part of the company’s contract for capital improvements.
Overall, the state estimated the attendance at state parks in Erie and Niagara counties during the fiscal year ending March 31 at 11.4 million. That’s down about 1 percent from about 11.6 million in the previous fiscal year, according to figures provided by the agency.
In the most recent fiscal year, attendance at Niagara Falls State Park was 8.99 million, compared to 8.88 million the previous year.
Attendance at Beaver Island rose to about 279,000, up from 269,000, while Fort Niagara State Park’s attendance jumped from about 518,000 to 635,000.
In the calendar year for 2013, about 1.5 million people visited Allegany State Park, according to the State Parks Office.
Statewide, 62 million people visited state parks in 2014, the agency previously announced.
Diane Gripshover of Covington, Ky., who has visited the Falls four times since 2002, started to tear up when asked why she keeps coming back.
Standing near Stedman’s Bluff on Goat Island, Gripshover mentioned the natural beauty, spectacular views and the ability to get close to nature on the American side of the Falls.
“God can live wherever God wants,” she said, “but I think if God could only live in one place, this is it.”