In June, as I was heading back to New York for the summer, I was excited about the great outdoors, so I bought myself an Empire Pass, which allows you to access every New York State park as many times as you like for the entire year. It seemed like a good idea. It was $81. All right, let’s go. I bought a new bike, bought a bike rack for my car, and was ready to take off.
I got busy, I didn’t have as much time as I would have liked to get out into the wild, and it started to bother me that I had spent so much money on something I hadn’t benefited from yet. But the day finally arrived. We were going to Long Point State Park on beautiful Lake Chautauqua. I would flash my card at the check point and roll in happy to know that it was worth it. Irony would exist that day, for as we pulled up to the place where you had to daily pay $8 to drive into the park, the station was empty. Anyone could drive in. For free. Fine. Okay. Let’s move on to the next part of the summer: Pennsylvania.
There had been a few state parks in PA which I wanted to check out. The first being Kinzua Bridge State Park where the highest railroad bridge in the world became a mangled ball of metal on a summer night almost twenty years ago when a massive tornado ran through it.
The PA Parks Dept have done a wonderful job with this park. It’s beautiful, interesting, and, to my shock, completely FREE! Wait, what?
And it had a great bike trail!
A little later in the summer, we wanted to bike Presque Isle State Park in Erie, PA, so we hitched up the bikes and pulled into the park to find it to be completely FREE! At the height of the summer.
This is a beautiful park. Wonderful beaches. Great for biking. Lots of people fishing. Boating. And free.
It wasn’t until I pulled into Rockland Lake State Park in Rockland County, NY that I got to flash my Empire Pass and use it. Yeah, it was great, but I had already become a little jaded by PA’s great free parks. And don’t get me wrong, NY has many incredible state parks. But the problem I now have with them is this: they should be FREE! For everyone. At all times.
Government has its purposes, and whenever a government can provide something for a comparatively minimal cost at a maximum benefit for all its citizens, it should be a no-brainer. The parks belong to everyone. Every New York State citizen who pays taxes already support the parks system, so they should not be making anyone pay to use our own beautiful spots!
Drop the Empire Pass. Drop the $8 entrance fee. Encourage everyone to get into the wild and enjoy the beauty for free. This is one thing I always appreciated about Washington D.C. They keep the country’s treasures open for everyone at the Smithsonian without charging for it. It’s the way it should be.
Good for you, PA. Come on, NY. Step it up. Make all state parks free. Make it a budge priority.