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State parks see influx of visitors

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MASSENA - This Labor Day weekend, campers are flocking to state parks and campgrounds to enjoy one last time in the great outdoors before the summer season’s end.

And St. Lawrence County is proving once again it’s a popular getaway, with the number of visitors to its state parks up across the board and some campground directors expecting to be at full capacity by the middle of the weekend.

Even without the campgrounds at full capacity, they remain a draw both for residents of St. Lawrence County and tourists traveling from outside the area.

Pam A. Giannino of Union Springs was camping at Coles Creek,Waddington, with her husband, two daughters and granddaughter, as well as employees from a restaurant the family owns in Union Springs.

“We own the Be Happy Cafe in Union Springs and bring all our employees with us,” Mrs. Giannino said. “We haven’t been here in three years because we did cabins for a while, but this year we decided to do camping again.”

She said Coles Creek has a little more sentimental value than most other parks or campgrounds.

“My husband and I have been married 30 years, and we came here the first year we were married,” she said. “We love the beach, the camping and we always go down and visit the locks.”

That was especially exciting this year, as her 4-year-old granddaughter, Marissa A. House, was along for the trip.

“It’s beautiful up here and there’s cool nights to sleep,” she said, adding they arrived at Coles Creek on Sunday and will be returning home Monday afternoon.

Not everyone who camps in St. Lawrence County’s parks comes from out of town.

Jessica L. Mayette and her sister-in-law, Macenzie Curran, both of Waddington, are camping at Robert Moses State Park, Massena, this weekend.

“We go every holiday and usually a couple of other times,” Ms. Mayette said. “We come here. We go to Coles Creek, Higley, Eel Weir, Fish Creek and a couple others.”

Ms. Mayette said they arrived on Wednesday and will be leaving on Sunday. Her camping party also includes her children, as well as her parents, and her sister-in-law, who also brought along her children.

“It’s very quiet and peaceful,” she said. “The kids love riding their bikes, and they can go down to the basketball courts.”

The park’s location, just outisde of Massena, is also a plus.

“It’s close to everything. If you forget something at home, you can go to Walmart,” she said. “Hannaford is right here too.”

With good weather in store, the park system is expecting a busy Labor Day weekend throughout the state, with over 90 percent of the system’s campsites booked in advance. Many of the county’s state campgrounds are already close to full capacity: Higley Flow, South Colton, is at 100 percent; Jacques Cartier State Park, Morristown, is at 85 percent; Coles Creek is at 82 percent; and Robert Moses State Park is at 78 percent.

Eel Weir, town of Oswegatchie, reported being at half capacity for its 34 sites and expects to be at three-quarters capacity by the middle of the weekend, Campground Maintenance Supervisor Thomas S. Rogers said.

Within the state, parks are seeing an overall increase of visitors on average. According to the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, 4.37 million people visited the 178 state parks and historic sites from Jan. 1 through the last weekend of August - a 2.3 million increase in visits over 2011.

Between Jan. 1 and Aug. 26, Higley Flow State Park reported 1,455 more visitors than last year, Jacques Cartier State Park reported 4,971, Coles Creek reported 6,364, Eel Weir State Park reported 899, and Robert Moses State Park reported 4,305.

“The weather’s been great for us,” Higley Flow State Park Superintendent Henry E. Sieg said.

Amanda Purcell contributed to this story.

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