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This year, vacationers fight fuel costs with fire

Source: Times Union
Publish Date: Friday, May 23, 2008
Summary: Families are staying in campgrounds to save money on vacation travel.

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By Dennis Yusko

May 23, 2008 (McClatchy-Tribune Regional News delivered by Newstex) -- MOREAU -- Lindsey Cornacchia and family have thought up an innovative solution to beating high gas prices this Memorial Day weekend, the unofficial start to summer.

Cornacchia, boyfriend Jason Howes and their 9-month-old baby, Hunter Howes, live in Rensselaer but will be staying in tents at Moreau Lake State Park for four days.

Jason Howes works in nearby Lake George. The family paid about $50 to camp at the 4,200-acre park until Saturday. She and Hunter are simultaneously vacationing and saving money, Cornacchia explained, because Jason Howes won't have to pay $4 a gallon for his two-hour round-trip commute to the Adirondacks.

"We tried to get all weekend, but they said everything is reserved," Cornacchia said.

That's because as the Capital Region prepares to mark Memorial Day weekend with a promise of sunny weather, reservations at campgrounds statewide already are up about 15 percent over last year, which officials also called a strong year. At Moreau, bookings are up 34 percent, and its 148 camps are filled for most weekends throughout the summer.

While state officials say the multitude of activities found at New York's state parks have tremendous pulling power, they acknowledge interest in them is rising with the cost of fuel and food.

"Parks are still an affordable way to take a vacation," said Dan Keefe, spokesman for the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. "You take a vacation close to home, you don't have to spend a lot on gas."

More than 55 million people a year visit the 178 state parks and 8,355 campsites operated by state parks. Camping reservations for the Adirondack and Catskill parks, which are administered by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, also are up about 15 percent from last year, a DEC spokeswoman said.

Meanwhile, private campgrounds also are humming. The 112 camps at Whispering Pines Campsite and RV Park in Greenfield Center are almost filled for the weekend, manager Jared Foro said.

The increase in action at state parks comes at a time when that system is "suffering from decades of under-investment," Commissioner Carol Ash told legislative leaders earlier this year.

"Many parks have significant health and safety concerns that require immediate attention," Ash said, in identifying $650 million in rehabilitation and development projects she labeled high-priority.

Some facilities have outdated drinking water and sewer systems, troubled bridges, failing electrical systems and more, Ash said. The agency is making $132 million in renovations to its parks this year. In all, it's responsible for 5,000 buildings, 29 golf courses, 53 swimming pools, 76 beaches, more than 1,350 miles of trails and more.

Even Saratoga Spa State Park has some crumbling foundations and worn-out facilities, state officials said. Some of those will be addressed with $5.2 million in state monies recently given to the Route 9 park.

At Moreau, new bathrooms are being built, but some roofs need replacing and roads could use some paving, park manager Peter Iskenderian said.

But to Daniel McNeil and his niece Kayla McNeil, the park is a beautiful location for a family reunion each Memorial Day weekend. The family from Stillwater arrived on a wet Thursday with their pop-up campers and checked in at a cabin near the park's front gate.

"The weather is supposed to break tomorrow," said a hopeful Daniel McNeil, who works as a machine operator. He plans to spend the weekend sitting by a fire.

Cornacchia, 25, spent her first night at Moreau on Wednesday, nestled among almost 3,000 undeveloped acres in a small, cleared area near the park's large lake. On Thursday, she made a crackling fire with wood from the construction site Jason Howes works at.

The park just stocked its lake with 2,500 rainbow trout, and there's bass in there, too. Classes will be offered throughout the weekend -- turkey talks, beaver walks and discussions focusing on amphibians.

"This place will be packed Friday night, bumper to bumper," Gary Hill, park naturalist, said during a trip through the facility's woods and road loops. Yusko can be reached at 454-5353 or by e-mail at dyusko@timesunion.com. Reservations on the riseEarly reservations for campsites at state parks have grown, compared with the same time last year, as more people seek to save on vacation costs and enjoy the outdoors: 20072008change All state parks*61,24270,08014.4 percent Moreau1,0211,37134 percent Thompson's Lake6477028.5 percent Cherry Plain1161381.9 percent

(*Does not include reservations at Adirondack and Catskill parks, run by the state Department of Environmental Conservation) Source: State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Newstex ID: KRTB-0007-25492196

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