WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (WETM) – There are many places you can travel while staying safe amid the pandemic right here in the Southern Tier, including the Watkins Glen State Park.

“Originally, Watkins Glen itself dates back to a large tract of land from 1794, 325,000 acres, but the state park part of Watkins Glen wasn’t developed open to the public until 1863 when they were looking at it as a valuable tourism asset,” said park manager of Watkins Glen State Park, Ronald Roney.

Watkins Glen State Park is the most famous of the finger lakes state parks, with a reputation for leaving visitors spellbound.

Within two miles, the glen’s stream descends 400 feet past 200-foot cliffs, generating 19 waterfalls along its course.

“Prior to 1863 there were a few mills here for plaster, grist, flour, but in 1863 when it kicked off with a gentleman by the name of Morvalden Ells came here, really took it off as a tourist attraction and said, “hey these waterfalls are magnificent” and that’s the year that it first opened to the public. Right after 1863, as the years went by, more and more of the gorge that we know today opened up,” said Roney.

Campers and day-visitors can enjoy the Olympic-size pool, scheduled summer tours through the gorge, tent and trailer campsites, picnic facilities, and excellent fishing in nearby Seneca Lake or Catherine Creek.

“On average, we’re taking right around a million visitors, of course, last year, and with the height of the pandemic where we didn’t have maybe the children’s camp programs or maybe the international tourist tour buses coming in, we were a bit below that, but by a couple 100,000 perhaps. We look at our numbers so far and they look very strong to being on track with a million or so that we do anticipate,” said Roney.

In 2015, the park was chosen from more than 6,000 state parks across the nation as a nominee in the USA Today readers’ choice poll for ‘Best State Park in the United States’ and won third place.