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January 30, 2002


Mr. Albert E. Caccese

Deputy Commissioner

for Land Management


Empire State Plaza, Agency Bldg 1

Albany, New York 12238


Dear Mr. Caccese:


Your response to the letter I wrote to Commissioner Castro on 12 December 2001 was less than satisfactory.  The letter I wrote on behalf of the Niagara Heritage Partnership objected to State Parks considering running people movers along the Niagara gorge rim from downtown Niagara Falls to Devil’s Hole State Park.  You wrote back in defense of that consideration, indicating that the contemplated route would extend along the gorge top even beyond Devil’s Hole and on to Fort Niagara at the mouth of the Niagara River.  You made only a slight attempt to respond to the substance of our letter.


I am continuing this correspondence to make certain that our position is very clear and to respond to remarks you made in your reply.  Perhaps some of the points we tried to make in the letter to Commissioner Castro were obscure, made only by implication.


  • State Parks’ notion of establishing a gorge people mover route is in direct conflict with the NHP rationale for preserving and reclaiming the gorge rim natural landscapes consistent with the Olmsted plan for the Reservation and important to our natural history.  The very presence of the “trolleys” would be a step toward the amusement park atmosphere we seek to avoid.


  • You asked “what better way” to introduce the wonders of our region to visitors.  NHP has been advocating the better way: people movers through city streets and parallel to the lower river, accessing points of interest by right angle routes.  These routes are already in place.


  • Since we noted in our initial letter that we weren’t buying into the “environmentally friendly” trolley terminology, there’s no need to keep promoting it to us.  The acquisition of less polluting fuel systems for Niagara people movers is an improvement, and State Parks deserves credit.  That does not justify their being used along the gorge rim, however.


  • Inserting the word “Trail” into the pilot program’s title doesn’t make it any more palatable.  We stand behind the objections we made in our letter to Mr. Lyons, cosigned by over 200 individuals, on 28 March 2001, and we are still waiting for State Parks to provide us with a rationale for the pilot.  How does its design propose to provide meaningful information that will lead to a conclusion about how to treat the gorge rim?  We were told that Parks had “nothing in writing” when the pilot was announced.  Does Parks still have nothing in writing?  Was nearly a million dollars spent on two-lane reduction roadwork with no justification in writing?


  • You say that these gorge rim people movers would provide a “terrific opportunity to acquaint visitors…with the other natural wonders available just a few miles down the Niagara River gorge.”  Of the seven opportunities you list, however, from Niagara Falls to Youngstown, only two qualify as natural wonders—and one of those requires stretching the imagination to the breaking point.


  • Absent from those seven sites is Devil’s Hole State Park, which is understandable, since its gorge rim is so severely degraded by the parkway lanes that it has either escaped your attention or was deemed unworthy of notice.  NHP has advocated its restoration.


  • Parks’ idea of adding to the “economic revival of Niagara Falls” evidently involves a lengthy stopover trip to Fort Niagara on people movers that might encourage visitors to retain accommodations for an extra night and eat an extra meal.  Where, between the Falls and Youngstown, this meal might be purchased is open to speculation.  The city of Niagara Falls will still be essentially detoured.


The NHP plan involves people movers on city streets.  It’s not original with NHP; the idea has been put forward for years, by a former Parks’ Director, by a current park’s commissioner, and others.  This would create the need for creative problem solving, but it is a better plan if the “economic revival” of Niagara Falls is at issue.


  • The NHP proposal retains the traditional tourist base and creates the potential for an entirely new and huge population of ecotourists.  With the current gorge rim trolley idea, Parks caters only to the traditional, excluding the others.  Does Parks dismiss the possibility that Niagara could benefit from the tremendous amount of ecotourism dollars spent annually, a result of restoring its natural historic landscapes?


  • The National Park Service places a very high priority on the preservation of natural heritage.  While the study to qualify the Niagara region as a National Heritage Area enters its initial stages, State Parks puts under “consideration” a plan that will detract from the possibility of reclaiming a significant part of our natural heritage, a move toward commercializing the gorge rim, the very area NHP seeks to restore.


  • Thirty-eight organizations, local, state, national, and international, with a combined membership of nearly one million, plus thousands of individuals from across the country and, in some instances around the world, have signed paper and electronic petitions in support of the proposal calling for gorge parkway removal and the restoration of natural landscapes.  They did not endorse “trolleys” and commuters running over the parkway that continues to despoil the gorge rim.


Is State Parks so dismissive of this grassroots endorsement that it has not made a genuine effort to evaluate the proposal?  Is it inconceivable to Parks that worthwhile ideas might arise from somewhere other than the upper levels of government?


  • It appears that the Commissioner’s Office, with the approval of the Governor, sets Parks’ agendas in motion and once this occurs, those agendas are impervious to differing public opinion.  If this is so, it does not speak well of either the Commissioner or the Governor.  You may or may not have a personal role in helping to establish these directions, but at least in this instance have been put in the position of defending policies that are an affront to common sense and are contrary to the Olmsted principles Parks claims to endorse, while continuing to keep the details of Parks’ rationale behind closed doors.  This condition doesn’t lead to a useful exchange of ideas.  We talk past one another.


  • Does State Parks have a “master plan,” a 10-year plan, for example, that outlines the general philosophy and specific directions for parks operation, especially the Niagara Reservation?  Where may we obtain a copy?


  • There is no question that Olmsted would have deplored the idea of commuter routes and people movers transversing concrete lanes along the gorge rim.  If it weren’t for the political infighting and conflicting interests in 1883, the gorge and its near rim would have been part of the Niagara Reservation as Olmsted and his supporters envisioned.  They took what they could get, the present Reservation at the Falls, a compromise.


Olmsted’s letters held by The Library of Congress and other sources reveal that he convinced Canadian Parks officials to construct a road much closer to the Falls than the hundred yard setback they’d planned—so that horse drawn carriages, the people movers of his day, would flock to Canada for the better view, leaving the US side free of these distractions.  For those carriages that did ply the lanes of the Niagara Reservation, he provided guidelines to restrict their intruding upon the natural scenery.


Now, 119 years later, we have the opportunity to mitigate that unfortunate compromise made so long ago, which born of past necessity as it may have been, has denied the organic wholeness of Niagara for generations.


If Parks insists on its “trolley” notion and finds it impossible to understand that is moving away from the potential of a more natural Niagara toward what Olmsted called the “Coney Island Big Elephant Affair,” then there is little left for us to discuss.


Again we ask Parks to consider dropping that portion of its Niagara region plan that calls for “trolleys” along the gorge rim and, further, to give serious consideration to the proposal for parkway removal and natural restoration, a direction that would honor Olmsted’s original concept of the Niagara Reservation.  Along with other members of the coalition, we look forward to meeting with you to discuss the details of this opportunity, if you feel that such discussions would be useful.




Bob Baxter

Conservation Chair


cc Bernadette Castro

     Hilary R. Clinton

                 Thomas DeSantis  

                 Paul A. Dyster

                 John J. LaFalce

                 Terrance D. Moore

                 George E. Pataki

                 Edward Rutkowski

                 Charles E. Schumer



f o r    g e n e r a t i o n s    t o    c o m e


Niagara Heritage Partnership

MPO Box 1495

Niagara Falls, New York 14302-1723