Niagara Gazette — Local officials encouraged a New York state parks executive on Wednesday to push for additional funding to help answer an age-old question - how many people actually visit Niagara Falls State Park in a given year?
During a meeting with state parks Deputy Commissioner Tom Alworth, representatives from the state parks commission for the western region suggested Albany should consider investing in what some commissioners described as a long-overdue visitor analysis at the park.
"That's basic research," said outgoing Commissioner Harvey Albond, a long-time advocate for the proposed analysis.
Fellow Commissioner Jerry Mosey agreed, saying having such information would be helpful in evaluating park operations.
"Without that data, we really can't make valid evaluations on anything," he said.
While state parks does collect visitor data each year, the figures are based largely on estimates from paid attendance, parking lot usage and patron counts at the Niagara Falls visitor center.
During the last fiscal year ending March 31, for example, the number of visitors to the state park in the Falls was calculated at 8.7 million, about the same as the previous year, according to state parks Director Ron Peters. Also last year, Peters said the park experienced an 8 percent increase in revenue.
Due to the use of estimates, the state park visitation rates have been subject to debate for many years. Local officials have often argued that having more accurate visitor numbers would help state parks, the Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp. and other tourism industry partners strengthen marketing strategies and make better use of advertising dollars.
Peters said the process of obtaining more accurate data is made more difficult by the physical makeup of the park itself, which promotes - as he noted it should - free flowing pedestrian traffic in and out. As a result, he said, it is often difficult to consistently and accurately determine the number of visitors.