Escape the Urban: Greenway Project Update

9 Oct

The latest in a series on the Niagara River Greenway Commission – here are the previous entries on the history of the group, an analysis of their systemic challenges, delays in spending money, last October’s project tracker and the update from this spring.

For my regular lonely update on the Niagara River Greenway Commission, the quasi-government entity with great potential, significant funding and nebulous power, epitomizing Western New York’s challenge in getting out of its own way, I was hoping to write up a throw away post, closing out coverage of the three projects I had been tracking and asking for readers to submit recommendations for new work to follow. Instead, two projects are incomplete and another is behind schedule.

First, the best (and only good) news. Fisherman’s Landing ($400,000), a reclamation project to convert a former wastewater treatment site and general eyesore into a convenient spot to throw in a bobber and a worm, is nearing completion.

Yes, the project was submitted for consideration three years ago, and at least two construction seasons were missed while the standing committee in charge of funding figured out how to open a bank account. Yes, it’s not the largest project, the sexiest project, or the most transformative project. But it allows anglers quality public access, and a prime goal of the commission was to find ways to get people to the water and enjoy it. After the trials and tribulations, it’s good to see the project 90% complete, down to a little asphalt work and installation of railings.

Images courtesy Mary Cooke (R-GI Town Council)

Unfortunately, the same can not be said for the installation of signage along the trail ($205,000) and the construction of a key connecting bike trail between Lewiston and Devil’s Hole State Park ($2M total, $210,000 of greenway funds). The bike trail has been delayed for some time, and I did not expect to find progress. The signage, however, was supposed to be installed by now (August/September completion per the Erie County Planning Department in June). I was so confident the new product would be there that I didn’t call my program contacts before going out this weekend to take pictures along the trail. But lo and behold, as I scoured the Scajaqueda/Riverwalk conjunction, I found the battered oldtyme bicycle signs, not the new sleek guide posts I had expected.

More to come as I track down the reason for delays, though the original offer still stands: if there is a Greenway Project you’d like more info on, please comment below.

7 Responses to “Escape the Urban: Greenway Project Update”

  1. Bob Baxter October 9, 2011 at 7:04 pm #

    Re the so-called “connecting trail” for bicycles between Lewiston and Devil’s Hole, elsewhere called the “Scenic Trail,” and the delay even though funding has been provided: one of the guidelines for Greenway projects is that state agencies work together, not step on one another’s toes. Currently, and just recently, State Parks (OPRHP) has completed a phase of a study project, at a price of $758,000, which resulted in 6 options. These options are now in the process of being narrowed down to several for further study. It would be unwise & a violation of guidelines (not that they aren’t being violated elsewhere as I type this) to do work that might then be negated by OPRHP decisions. Meanwhile, establishing a bicycle trail would be a problem across the power plant itself where NYPA and its years-long undisclosed “work” has closed the two lanes closest to the river. The Niagara Heritage Partnership has proposed for 15 years the total removal of gorge parkway lanes between Niagara Falls and Lewiston NY (this is option No. 6 being considered by OPRHP) and so putting in a trail now would simply be silly. This is a good delay. To read a letter I wrote to Rep. Slaughter on 25 October 2007, go to http://www.niagaraheritage.org, and look under Recent Postings for this title: NHP Proposal to the Greenway Commission re Lewiston’s “Scenic Trail.” While you are on the site, please consider leaving your name in support of total gorge parkway removal.

  2. RaChaCha October 9, 2011 at 7:11 pm #

    “The Niagara River Greenway Commission: the quasi-government entity with great potential, significant funding and nebulous power, epitomizing Western New York’s challenge in getting out of its own way.”

    Succinct and spot-on — unfortunately.

  3. Brian Castner October 10, 2011 at 6:52 am #

    Bob – Can you further explain what specifically State Parks is studying (total road removal being Option 6)? What area is covered? When they started studying it? When a report is due? Etc? It may be silly to put in a bike trail now if the state is studying other options, but it would also be silly to let yet another study stop publicly supported planned work more than a decade in the making (though the Greenway funding portion is only a year or two old).

  4. RaChaCha October 10, 2011 at 9:02 am #

    Brian, I believe Bob is referring to the options being studied for Parkway reconfiguration/removal. What may ultimately happen with the Parkway from Devil’s Hole to Lewiston will have a significant bearing on what options are possible for a trail linkage between those places. Lewiston, however (as I understand it) isn’t waiting, and is trying to get a trail in place in the nearer-term, using Greenway funds. I was never able to nail down details last year when I was looking at that, but the regional bike/ped coordinator Greg Szewczyk (pronounced SOO-zik) of DOT has copies of proposed designs/routings, I believe.

    I’ve done several hikes of my own between Devil’s Hole and Lewiston. One route uses a narrow sidewalk along the southbound lanes of the Parkway across the power project, then a closed trail/goat path along the gorge which eventually widens out into a trail into Artpark which comes out near the location of the old suspension bridge. The other route follows the abandoned Hojack Line parallel to the Parkway, until the point where the Hojack begins to head down the escarpment — at that point one has to either hike along the Parkway into Lewiston, or cross the Parkway and down a steep hill into Artpark (upper parking lot area).

    The degree to which either or both of these options are incorporated into the Lewiston plans I’m not certain. But I AM certain that Devil’s Hole to Lewiston (and back) is one of my fav hikes in WNY (especially if you hang out in Lewiston in the middle and get ice cream). Um, I wish I was doing it today!

  5. Brian Castner October 10, 2011 at 2:10 pm #

    @ RaChaCha – I think we can begin by agreeing that the RMP is the most useless piece of concrete in WNY. Every time I drive over the escarpment I wonder why two roadways and 8 lanes are required. That being said, state funded studies are the gift that keep on giving. We’ll spend far more than the $2.2M bike lane pricetag “studying” the road before we do any work that would impact building the path now. We put bike paths through every type of enviroment in this country, sensitive to common – how disruptive can it ultimately be to whatever RMP solution is finally decided, 5-20 years from now? Lewiston was trying to take $200K of greenway funds and add it to $2M in federal funds (secured by Rep Slaughter a decade ago) to get the project moving. What is actually stopping them I don’t know – the Lewiston town supervisor doesn’t take or return my phone calls.

  6. RaChaCha October 10, 2011 at 3:08 pm #

    Brian, I wouldn’t mind seeing a link in place sooner rather than later — especially as that missing piece is the most significant gap in the makeshift collection of trail segments on our side of the river corridor (the next most being from Gratwick Park in NT to LaSalle in NF). As you know, I feel WNY is missing a major opportunity by not taking better advantage of our regional recreational opportunities.

    That said, as I understand it there are some serious issues with the process and plans for that segment as currently being driven by Lewiston. The only coverage of the issues I’ve seen in the media have been in the Niagara Gazette — but even they, I don’t think, really understand the issues and options (they got some basic geography wrong in one article I read). Because all the viable options include to some degree the RMP right-of-way, any planning and plans have to keep in the loop regional entities such as: DOT, GBNRTC, and (I believe) State Parks. It may be those folks you’d have to sit down and talk with to see what are the latest plans, drawings, routings, or discussions they’ve seen or heard. BTW, this is a good time of year to look at route options on the ground, with reduced vegetation and dry weather (but you know that).

    Personally (for bikes, at least) I’m kinda partial to options which incorporate the Hojack R.O.W., because: 1) the old Hojack bridge across the mouth of the power reservoir is still there (and right by the Power Vista entrance/parking lot which would make a nice trailhead); 2) it’s easy to establish trail on an old railroad R.O.W.; 3) the Hojack underpasses for all the RMP ramps and the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge are all still in place; 4) using that option for bikes might allow for another, lower-impact hiking trail to be developed along the gorge; 5) I have a nostalgia for the Hojack given that I spearheaded a nearly-successful (heartbreakingly so) effort to purchase the abandoned Hojack R.O.W. from Lewiston to western Monroe County to save it from being divided up and auctioned off in parcels — at the time I met the attorney for the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy in the Falls and we surveyed the route by car.

    If I can be of any assistance drop me a line!

  7. Bob Baxter October 12, 2011 at 2:46 pm #

    Brian– OPRHP is studying future possibliities for the gorge parkway, including total removal, between NF & Lewiston. Thus far they’ve presented 6 possibilities, options, with no date set for the narrowing down of these to several. Far beyond silly, and moving into the large expenditure of funds to influence final political outcomes (stupid) regardless of environmental consequences or future economic potentials–if the b. trail is established it then becomes a rationale for parkway retention: “What? We just spent millions & you want to tear it out?”
    Lewiston may not “be waiting,” but one of reasons they’re not is because it serves their political ends. They’re on record as wanting to retain the parkway. So ice cream in Lewiston aside, and I appreciate the feeling that something should be done, let’s do it right, for once.
    Is a straight-shot b. trail up and down the hill next to parkway traffic desireable? Please read my letter to Slaughter. I very much doubt, the advocating of NHP included, that anything we’ve said will make a difference, sadly. I’ve seen the plans that Lewiston has had drawn up for this b. trail–two options–both of which call for crossing over the existing parkway lanes for b. riders, near the bottom of the hill. One of them has b. riders crossing over two lanes, continuing between them for a distance, and then crossing the other two. They’re both terrible plans–I can’t imagine someone wanting to bring a family out on a cycling adventure wanting to cope with that condition.

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