For Mark Mistretta, Thursday is his first official day on his new job as Western District Director of New York State Parks. Mistretta takes the place of Mark Thomas, who has retired from the position he held since 2007.
Mistretta previously served as capital facilities manager for the Western District. He recalled the investment made in state parks through Governor Andrew Cuomo's NY Parks 2020 initiative, spending Thomas oversaw.
"Mark has done a phenomenal job leading the agency," Mistretta said. "If you speak in just terms of dollars, the state under Mark's leadership invested over $70 million in and around the parks."
And that was just Niagara Falls State Park alone. In all, $125 million was spent on Thomas' watch to upgrade and replace facilities at Allegany, Evangola Fort Niagara and Letchworth State Parks, just to name a few. In recent years, the City of Buffalo got its first state park with the introduction of Buffalo Harbor State Park.
Mistretta takes over in a year when state lawmakers approved a budget that offset some anticipated partial losses from state and federal tax deductions. Even with those revenue concerns, Mistretta says the Cuomo Administration remains "park friendly."
"We've maintained a healthy $90 million capital budget every year," he said. "The budget's tight, we could always use more, but it's still more money than we've seen in decades past."
Mistretta also noted that additional investment is coming, with plans including an expansion of greenspace along a two-mile stretch of the Niagara Scenic Parkway (former Robert Moses Parkway) and the conversion of a seasonal highway into bicycle and pedestrian-oriented pathways on the west end of Grand Island.