As staycations soar, Jones Beach gets its game on

Shall we play a game: The $65 million overhaul of Jones Beach (or $100 million, depending on your timeframe) now includes the new West Games Area.

Let the games begin at Jones Beach State Park, where the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation has officially completed a multimillion-dollar overhaul of the park’s outdoor West Games Area – the latest milestone in a nine-year, nine-digit upgrade of the historic beachfront.

With concession stands at state parks officially reopening this week (under strict pandemic-induced guidelines), Jones Beach visitors have plenty of new options to work off the snacks. Included in Albany’s five-year, $65 million overhaul of the historic Nassau County park were a Summer Olympics’ worth of new and refurbished play areas in the West Games Area, all surrounded by contemporary benches, tables and fencing and illuminated by state-of the art lighting.

Among the main attractions is a mini-golf course – a smaller, simpler, family-friendly putt-a-thon that trades intricate challenges for sweet ocean views.

Challengers will surely be found around the freshly set, regulation-sized tennis and basketball courts, the classic shuffleboard grids and the new pickleball and cornhole equipment, among other old-school and cutting-edge play options covered in the West Games Area’s seven-figure refit.

Making a play: State and local officials officially unveil the new West Games Area.

Part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s NY Parks 2020 agenda – a five-year, nearly billion-dollar plan to modernize the state park system, announced in 2015 – and covered in part by $1.9 million in federal Land and Water Conservation funding, the $6.6 million investment in the outdoor gaming area is well worth it, according to Cuomo, who called the circa-1929, 2,413-acre barrier island beachfront “more than just a park.”

“[Jones Beach] is a living testament to New York ingenuity and a historic public attraction that has brought joy to New York families for generations,” the governor said. “These new and improved gaming areas will give families a chance to relax and have fun even during these unprecedented times.”

With New York City finally reopening its beaches to the public, Cuomo glossed over recent controversies about who can and can’t access Long Island beaches during the social-distancing era – “We will continue our work to make Jones Beach an exciting destination for every New Yorker,” the governor said – and trumpeted a Jones Beach overhaul that actually extends back to 2011 and includes more than $100 million in improvements.

Par none: State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid gets in a round.

Among the highlights of the decade-long effort: a new West Bathhouse Complex, the restoration of the historic Central Mall mosaics, new playgrounds at Zach’s Bay (in addition to the new swings, slides and jungle gyms at the West Games Area), the new Boardwalk Café (formerly The Landing, with a fairly lengthy history before that) and the opening of the Jones Beach WildPlay Element Park, an “adventure park” featuring child-friendly zip lines, rope bridges and other climbing challenges.

The opening of the new West Games Area is “another important step in our commitment to keeping Jones Beach the jewel of New York’s state parks system,” according to State Sen. John Brooks (D-Seaford), who agreed with the governor that Jones Beach – which washed up on the National Register of Historic Places in 2005 – is and always should be an important in-state destination for all New Yorkers.

“[Jones Beach is] the No. 1 destination spot for families across our great state,” Brooks said in a statement, adding the tens of millions of dollars in park-wide improvements – especially in areas that have “suffered from age, overuse and even superstorms” – would “ensure the next 90 years [are] every bit as glorious as the previous.”