Crown Point to Benefit from New Investment in State Parks
Upgrades to Crown Point State Historic Site are part of a statewide $900 million, multi-year parks capital program.
In 2009, on the 400th anniversary of explorer Samuel de Champlain’s discovery of Lake Champlain, the state made a major investment at the site.
Crown Point, near the newly reopened Champlain Bridge, is one of 20 parks, campgrounds and historic sites in the parks system’s Capital-Saratoga Region. The land is owned by the State Department of Environmental Conservation, but the site is managed by the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
“At that time, we renovated the visitors centers and we put in a multi-media interpretive program,” said Alane Ball Chinian, regional parks commissioner. “Plus, when the bridge was rebuilt, we were able to install nice, new handicapped-accessible pathways to get people from a nearby (DEC-run) campground to the historic site, under the bridge.”
Next, plans call for stabilizing the historic site’s lakefront banks.
“There’s kind of a cliff on Lake Champlain, right at the edge of the peninsula, that’s been eroding,” said Chinian. “There’s archaeological issues with that. We need to shore up that cliff.”
It’s not certain if work will take place this year, but the project is one of many in the department’s capital spending program. State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey outlined details during a March 2 press conference at Saratoga Spa State Park.
The state has been allocating $90 million per year since 2011 for capital improvements. The plan is to maintain funding at that level through 2020 — or $900 million altogether.
Only a few years ago, many state parks were faced with cutbacks and possible closure because of State belt-tightening during the “Great Recession.” Harvey said many facilities statewide had fallen into disrepair.
More than half of all capital money will be used for park infrastructure such as roads, bridges, parking areas, clean water and restrooms. Another 27 percent will be for new recreational facilities at state parks, to encourage young people especially to have more active, healthy lifestyles that will hopefully continue into adulthood.
However, staffing shortages are still a problem because there has been no increase in operational budgets, despite more money for capital projects.
Harvey said $850 million of the $900 million earmarked for capital spending is state money, with the rest a combination of private and federal dollars. In recent years many “Friends” groups have raised money to support projects for their respective parks, which were threatened by state fiscal constraints.
In 1759, the British took over the abandoned French Fort St. Frederic and began building “His Majesty’s Fort of Crown Point,” which contributed to the British conquest of Canada.
1775, at the outbreak of the Revolutionary War, the rebellious colonists captured the fort and secured sorely needed cannons and heavy ordnance. Crown Point was occupied by General John Burgoyne’s army in 1777 after the American evacuation to Mount Independence and remained under British control until the end of the war. The ruins of Fort St. Frederic, “His Majesty’s Fort of Crown Point,” and surrounding lands were acquired by the State of New York in 1910.
Today, visitors can explore the ruins of the original 18th-century structures and tour the newly renovated museum. Across the street, the historic Crown Point Pier and newly restored Champlain Memorial Lighthouse are also open to the public.
The 2015 season begins May 1. An on-site walking tour is scheduled for May 30.
Most of Harvey’s presentation dealt with broad themes for the parks system such as increased recreational use, protecting art and culture, and using parks to promote local economies through special events. For example, Saratoga Spa State Park alone hosts 60 athletic races per year with 21,000 participants.
“We’re not just fixing, improving and enhancing,” she said. “We’re transforming. We are going to change the state parks system. We’re going to modernize it and make it more relevant for the 21st century.”
Also of local interest, she said plans are moving forward for Moreau Lake State Park to acquire 1,200 acres surrounding the former Mount McGregor Correctional Facility that closed last summer.
“It is in the works,” Harvey said of the impending land transfer. “We’re very optimistic. There’s just a lot of process. I don’t know how long it will take. We’re really happy with what we believe will be the conclusion. We’re adding really natural beautiful lands that make the connection to different parts of Moreau state park.”
Empire State Development is charged with marketing the former prison’s 71 buildings. To date, no proposals have been announced.