State park improvements begin
WATKINS GLEN--Although work has been occurring for years to plan and redesign some key aspects of the Watkins Glen State Park, motorists passing through the village got to see some of the first signs of the work last week. The overhaul is expected to be a $6.5 million project and was announced in February last year. The main entrance on Franklin Street will be converted from a parking area to walkways with trees and green space as visitors approach the entrance to the Gorge Trail.
"Right now, at the old park, you get out of your car and walk through a parking lot to get to the gorge entrance," said Fred Bonn, Finger Lakes regional director of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. "We're looking for a much more natural experience so you will end up in a urban garden setting and the plantings will become more dense and natural as you get closer to the gorge entrance tunnel."
While work will continue throughout the summer to the planned opening date of spring 2018, the park and the trail will be open to visitors during construction.
There is already an unpaved parking lot across the street from the Watkins Glen State Park and this will be expanded and redeveloped during the park makeover.
The project was originally planned to be started last summer, but was delayed until the offseason when the popular Gorge Trail, campgrounds and pool are closed for the winter. The South Rim and Indian Trails above the gorge are open year round at the park.
Construction fences are now assembled as work to strip the asphalt, rehabilitate the bathroom areas and improve the concession building are underway.
Bonn explained the first steps are in motion, and shortly, larger scale projects will begin. He said as long as the weather cooperates a crane could be expected in March to work on "demolition and stabilization" of the Indian Trial. The front section of the Indian Trail has been closed for decades and will be reopened as part of the project. He also said at that time the parking lot across the street will be expanded by taking down two adjacent houses on 10th Street.
The Mr. Chicken restaurant building (also across the street from the park) recently closed in Watkins Glen and is being purchased by the park. However, the original plans did not anticipate this space being available and was "outside of the design for [the original] project," according to Bonn. The space is expected to accommodate parking and will give the park a net increase in spaces when all the work is completed.
Also coming up in April this spring will be the relocation of the traffic light near the park entrance.
"We are going to be realigning the traffic signal and the entrance to the park," said Bonn. "That is going to get pushed to the 10th Street intersection...which is going to help with the traffic flow on Franklin Street. This is one of the big elements that I am excited about, trying to alleviate the stacking of cars going into the park."
Along with the front of the park being converted to green space, the entrance will feature a new welcome center, with the Watkins Glen Chamber of Commerce providing information about the region. There will also be additional information about historical and geological highlights for visitors to learn about.
"In terms of parks projects, and Governor Cuomo's commitment to state parks, this is one of the gold stars for the state right now," Bonn remarked. "The governor, with his Parks 2020 program, the funding he has included in his executive budget for parks, makes a difference for villages like Watkins Glen."
Additional information about the Watkins Glen State Park can be seen at www.parks.ny.gov/parks/142/ and the completed park renderings can be viewed at www.governor.ny.gov/news/governor-cuomo-announces-65-million-transform-watkins-glen-state-park-entrance.