We advocate for and support the Niagara Heritage Partnership's (www.niagaraheritage.org) proposal: total elimination of the Robert Moses Parkway between Niagara Falls and Lewiston, NY for the preservation, restoration, and recreation of native plants and natural habitats along the Niagara gorge rim. We encourage everyone to sign their online petition. Additional information: 716-791-4611.
The Niagara River and Gorge
In 1997, the Niagara Heritage Partnership proposed in public forum that all four lanes of the Robert Moses Parkway along the Niagara gorge rim be removed between Niagara Falls and Lewiston, NY and that natural landscapes be restored.
This would provide both economic and environmental benefits. The unique botanical character of the gorge and rim would be protected and extended, enhancing the natural features of our region. This largely self-sustaining, restored gorge rim would allow us to promote our region as an eco-tourist destination, attracting a new population of visitors who desire a “green” vacation; traffic redirected to alternate routes would help to revitalize urban business districts.
What they envision: a long gorge rim park with hiking and bicycling trails running through landscapes restored according to the philosophy of Frederick Law Olmsted, new forests being nurtured to extend the old growth forest at DeVeaux and at other appropriate locations, long-grass, wildflower meadows attractive to butterflies, ground nesting birds, and other wildlife. (Olmsted’s Niagara plan is on our website.
The old growth at DeVeaux should be encouraged to expand toward the cut-grass park at Whirlpool State Park which, years ago, was part of this forest. Old growth specimen trees still grow there.
Our cultural and historical heritage should be reclaimed at Devil’s Hole State Park where parkway lanes currently dishonor it. The reestablishment of native flora here, as well as at other locations, would demonstrate the respect we have for our shared history.
The NHP proposal has generated support from the largest, most broad-based, international, grassroots coalition ever to come together on an issue involving the Niagara Frontier. The coalition continues to grow.
It is supported by the Seneca Nation of Indians, the Niagara County Environmental Council, the Erie County Environmental Management Council, as well as thousands of individual citizens, and a broad coalition of 65 organizations, including business groups, bicycling clubs, environmental organizations, Niagara Falls’ block clubs and others, with a combined membership of over one million. Over 2,000 individual signatures are on the petition at www.niagaraheritage.org, where new supporters may also sign. (Two thousand additional signatures are on paper petition pages.) A complete list of the supporting groups is also available on the Niagara Heritage Partnership website.
Robert Moses Parkway removal would create waterfront access and significant wildlife habitat, protect the watershed, and create a genuine greenway along this most unique length of river corridor.
The botanical uniqueness of the Niagara gorge and related areas is authoritatively discussed in several articles by P.M. Eckel, a former Niagara Frontier resident, currently with the Missouri Botanical Gardens. The articles, results of her botanical fieldwork here and persuasive arguments for authentic restorations can be read at www.niagaraheritage.org under “Flora at DeVeaux College Woods,” “Notes on the Limits of the Sacred Precinct on Scovell’s Knoll (Oak Hill), Lewiston, NY” and “Bob Baxter’s Niagara Greenhouse.”
According to DOT figures, the small number of commuters who use the parkway as a highway could easily be absorbed by alternative routes: Lewiston Rd.-Main St.; Highland Ave.-Eleventh St.-Portage Rd; Hyde Park Blvd; Military Rd; and the I-190. Traveling these routes adds only minutes to the commute. Increasing traffic on the alternatives, including that of visitors, has the potential to help with urban revitalization.
Current vehicle access to the gorge edge at existing scenic vantage points such as the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center, Whirlpool State Park, and Devil’s Hole State Park would be maintained with the Partnership proposal. Wheelchair users, the handicapped, the elderly, and others who simply prefer to drive to these locations would still be able to do so.
That the parkway is damaging to the fragile gorge and river ecology is not in dispute. Five and a half miles of four-lane parkway equals nearly three million square feet of rapid run-off surface. Hundreds of tons of salt are spread annually on this highway; routine herbicide applications to hinder “undesirable” vegetation contributes to this contamination introduced into an environment supporting centuries old white pine and other botanical communities unique to New York State. The NY Office of State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation documents 231,738.75 tons of carbon emissions annually from vehicles using the gorge parkway.
Restored natural landscapes along a parkway-free gorge rim would provide economic and environmental potential for our region. It would enlarge the Globally Significant Important Bird Area by over 300 acres, creating a green space attractive to those seeking green vacations. Visitors could select hiking experiences according to their interests: within the gorge itself, or a more casual walk along the blacktop rim path, and wonderful family or group bicycling trips that would incorporate Lewiston and Youngstown as destinations. For more experienced and ambitious cyclers, the ride would extend along the upper river to Grand Island and beyond, and would also link up with the historic Seaway Trail at Lake Ontario.
The eco-tourist market is significant worldwide and clearly represents a niche market for the Niagara Frontier, a new population of tourists over and beyond the number of visitors who travel here annually. Evidence of this is readily available: www.ecotourism.org, for example.
How much would this cost and who will pay? The lowest informal estimate given is slightly over three million dollars for concrete removal only, not restoration, and is a price that would escalate rapidly if the job were tackled piecemeal. Half of this amount of money has already been wasted on the current unsatisfactory “pilot.” Some potential funding sources: US Department of Agriculture & Forest Service, NorthEast area; the National Park Service; Watershed & Clean Water Stewardship; Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council; EPA Educational to Promote Environmental Stewardship.
Additionally, The Niagara River Greenway Commission created by Gov. Pataki, with commitments from the New York Power Authority for millions of dollars in funding, makes this commission the logical body to move this proposal forward. One of its earliest challenges will be to evaluate the rationale of the Niagara Heritage Partnership proposal. We trust that the commission will conclude that establishing a genuine greenway along the Niagara Gorge rim requires the removal of all four lanes of parkway. Without four-lane removal, potential benefits will not be realized.
At the press conference where Gov. Pataki signed the Commission into law, he made positive remarks about Frederick Law Olmsted, saying, “we now have a unique opportunity to reclaim the Olmsted vision of a magnificent waterfront here on the Niagara Frontier, not so much for ourselves, but for our children and their children. And we are going to do it. We are not going to miss the opportunity we have been given, after 100 years of mistakes.”
The Niagara Heritage Partnership strongly endorses these comments, and we look forward to their being translated into action, to seeing the Olmsted vision become reality.
The environmental groups mentioned by Gov. Pataki as supporting the greenway concept, The Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy, and the Friends of the Buffalo Niagara River, are groups which have endorsed the proposal for Niagara gorge parkway removal and the restoration of natural landscapes.
The Niagara Heritage Partnership proposal is a specific plan for a part of the larger greenway and is also compatible with and complementary to other initiatives for our river, gorge, and region: the establishment of an International Peace Park, a National Heritage Area Designation, a World Biosphere Reserve designation from UNESCO.
firstname.lastname@example.org P.O. Box 2827 Niagara Falls, N.Y 14302 / 716-299-1300