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New Yorkers can help beautify parks on Saturday

New York's elected officials are making some long-overdue investments in our aging state parks system. Now those of us who use that system have a chance to do our part, by putting a day's worth of muscle into helping out at the parks we love.

On Saturday, volunteers from across the state will participate in cleanup, improvement and beautification events at New York State parks and historic sites as part of the first-ever I Love My Park Day. We'll celebrate New York's park system by pitching in to clean up park lands and beaches, plant trees and gardens, restore trails and make other site improvement.

Nearly 40 events are happening in every region of the state. Right here in Western New York, volunteers can help clean up Allegany and Evangola state parks, contribute to beautification efforts at Midway, Wilson-Tuscarora and Knox Farm state parks, or plant trees at Golden Hill State Park.

The legacy of New York's park system is unparalleled. New York is home to such iconic sites as Niagara Falls, the oldest state park in the country; Olana, the 19th century home of Hudson River School artist Frederic Edwin Church; and Jones Beach, a world-class swimming destination.

Those are just three of our 213 parks and historic sites that, all told, draw 57 million visitors each year. Unfortunately, many of them show the signs of underfunded maintenance and repair.

The new state budget contains welcome good news on that front. It will infuse $89 million in capital funding to begin addressing infrastructure needs at state parks and historic sites. Funding will go to improve 48 specific state parks and historic sites. This includes:

* $500,000 at Evangola State Park and $550,000 at Golden Hill State Park to reconstruct deteriorated restrooms.

* More than $3.3 million at Allegany State Park to reconstruct restroom and shower buildings and upgrade outdated electrical systems.

* $150,000 at Midway State Park to construct a new building around the park's historic carousel.

It's a smart investment that will create jobs and help grow New York's economy sustainably. All New Yorkers will benefit from this revitalization, either directly as visitors or through a boost in tourism.

But government funding alone will not do the job. New York is a leader in parks and conservation because of a long history of stewardship and generosity of private citizens. Volunteer participation in I Love My Park Day will help enhance these important places during lean budget times and show elected leaders that there is strong public support for our park system.

To sign up to volunteer on I Love My Park Day, visit I Love My Park Day is organized by Parks & Trails New York in collaboration with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and local friends groups.

Robin Dropkin is executive director of Parks & Trails New York.