State Parks Western Regional Director Mark Thomas announces retirement

OBSERVER Staff Report

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation has announced that Mark W. Thomas who has served as the Western District Director for State Parks since 2007 will retire in May 2018.

Before Thomas was the Western District Director, he was Chautauqua County Executive for two terms.

Thomas will be replaced by Mark V. Mistretta, who currently serves as Capital Facilities Manager for State Parks Western District.

“Mark Thomas leaves a legacy of accomplishment in state parks that will be experienced and cherished for so many generations to come. New York State is so very grateful for his tireless advocacy and stewardship of our precious and treasured open space. He led and mentored so many of our future park champions and did so with tremendous class, character and integrity. We all will forever be indebted to him. On behalf of New York State and our 71 million visitors we wish you an engaging and healthy next chapter,” said State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey. “We are so very excited to welcome Mark Mistretta in his new role as he has dedicated a lifetime to envisioning new and improved access to public lands. His decades long experience embodies NY Parks 2020 core priorities of promoting healthy, active recreation, connecting people to parks, preserving cultural assets, sustaining New York’s natural environment and energizing our local economies.”

Thomas has directed state parks in the 10 Western New York counties through one of the most transformative and prosperous periods in the agency’s history. Thomas keenly oversaw the execution of Governor Cuomo’s “NY Parks 2020” initiative which included more than a $125 million investment into Western Region state parks. The highlights under Thomas’s watch included the $70 million restoration of Niagara Falls State Park, creation and opening of Buffalo Harbor State Park (City of Buffalo’s first state park), the opening of the Humphrey Nature Center at Letchworth State Park, new swimming bathhouses at Fort Niagara State Park and Allegany State Park, the replacement of the Red House Dam, return of open space along the Niagara Scenic Parkway, new cabins at Allegany State Park and the introduction of State Parks first yurts at Four Mile Creek, Golden Hill and Evangola state parks as well as hundreds of additional projects across the district.

Under Thomas’s leadership the Agency received numerous accolades and awards including Letchworth State Park’s designation in a national poll as 2015 “Best State Park in the Nation” and also 2017 “Best New York State attraction” as identified through a statewide poll.

Numerous projects under the NY Parks 2020 initiative received design and engineering fields highest honors for work of significant quality, innovation and professional impact. The Agency has been honored with 3 Merit Awards for the transformative work done on Luna Island (2013), Three Sisters Islands (2013) and Terrapin Point (2016) at Niagara Falls by the New York Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects. Under Thomas’s guidance the dramatic rehabilitation at Niagara Falls also received awards for the design work on the Cave of the Winds elevator (2013) from the American Institute of Architects and the 2014 Bridge Award from the Association for Bridge Construction and Design. Buffalo Harbor State Park was honored in 2015 as the Environmental Project of the Year as named by the Western NY Chapter of the American Public Works Association.

“I am so very grateful to Governor Cuomo and Commissioner Rose Harvey for the opportunity to have served in this capacity. It has been a dream come true to work in the greatest park system in the nation with the most talented, creative and dedicated people I could have ever imagined,” said Mark Thomas.

Thomas will be replaced by Mark V. Mistretta, a noted Western New York landscape architect who brings over 38 years of experience with various organizations dedicated to planning and developing parkland. He is a founding and active member of the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, successfully drafted the master plan for the Niagara River Greenway and spearheaded various regional waterfront and trail initiatives throughout WNY. Both a St Joseph’s Collegiate Institute and Rutgers University alum, Mistretta has served as State Parks’ Capital Facilities Manager for the Niagara Region joining State Parks, Mistretta worked for a series of landscape architect firms highlighted by his 27 years working with Wendel, a well-known landscape architect firm located in Williamsville.

“I would have never thought it possible to be afforded this opportunity to manage the state parks that I have loved for so long. I look forward to building on all that Mark has done and working on behalf of Governor Cuomo and Commissioner Harvey to ensure that our parks thrive for generations to come,” said newly appointed State Parks Western Regional Director Mark Mistretta.

Thomas will retire his leadership role on May 30. Mistretta will assume the roles and responsibilities simultaneously.

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation oversees more than 250 parks, historic sites, recreational trails, golf courses, boat launches and more, which are visited by 71 million people annually. A recent study found that New York State Parks generates $5 billion in park and visitor spending, which supports nearly 54,000 jobs and over $2.8 billion in additional state GDP. For more information on any of these recreation areas, call 518-474-0456 or visit, connect with us on Facebook, or follow on Instagram and Twitter.