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Piecemeal parkway removal not justified

Niagara Gazette, 26 April 2000

The Niagara Heritage Partnership believes that attempting to remove the Robert Moses Parkway along the gorge a section at a time has serious disadvantages involving costs, publicity value, and the reduced probability of completing the whole job.

The cost of removing it in sections would skyrocket the estimate of $300,000 per mile. Start-up expenses, the most costly part of the process, would be as high for a mile or two as for the entire length. These expenses would be reassessed for each portion.

Large projects in which both private and public organizations and agencies cooperate for common goals, whose vision embraces the economic, environmental, cultural, recreative, and historic, have an enhanced potential for capturing high levels of private, state, and federal funding. Smaller, or fragmented, proposals simply do not have that potential. They would require repeated appeals to the same funding sources, with much less justification for funding.

Removing the entire parkway at one time would be a huge, media-attracting project that would captivate naturalists and others worldwide. News coverage would be more likely to be steady- -a regular reporting of the process. There is a high probability that the Discovery Channel or other national film media outlets would cover the reclamation. Independent documentary film makers would be drawn here. Organizations and individuals would undoubtedly be eager to participate by donating trees and wildflower and grass seed. To remove it in pieces would simply be a series of deconstruction jobs, a local newspaper article or two each time, the annoyance of noise and dust.

It also seems highly unlikely that a phased removal would result in a park restoration based on Olmsted's principles. When the whole vision is broken into pieces, there will be less support for anything other than mowed-grass parkland. It is doubtful this will do anything significant to attract ecotourists. The temptation to remedy this with "attractions" destructive of the natural environment would be extreme.

If the Quay Street portion of the parkway is removed first, and then two lanes of the next section to Findlay Drive, there is no reason to believe there will be any motivation to remove additional parkway. The political capital of Niagara Falls city officials will have been stretched thin; having accomplished some removal and satisfied "green" constituents, they could. declare victory.

Removing the already-closed Quay Street section (previously advocated by Niagara Falls Redevelopment and for which commercial development is planned) and the first mile or so north from Howard Johnson's is the easy part, relatively speaking. It avoids opposition from DeVeaux residents concerned about increased Lewiston Road traffic and defuses potential critics from Lewiston and other points below the ridge whose residents want their freeway to the Falls retained.

If the project stalls at Findlay, the Niagara Heritage Partnership's vision won't be realized. Here are some aspects of that vision: Removing the four lanes of the parkway that divides Whirlpool State Park from the DeVeaux forest would permit the forest to extend itself toward Whirlpool. The mature trees on the median there, spared by parkway construction 40 years ago, would become part of the forest again. The spreading forest would be contained by the edge of the Whirlpool mowed-grass park. Inside the park, visitors who are sightseeing and picnicking would enjoy the experience of being in a forest clearing, bounded on one side by the Niagara Gorge. Devil's Hole State Park, the site where 50 to 60 soldiers were massacred by the Senecas, is dishonored by parkway lanes, reduced to a pathetic sliver of mowed grass and a parking lot.

The current Master Plan proposes further disrespect: enlarging the parking lot and constructing a turn-around, presumably for people movers. In contrast, the Niagara Heritage Partnership believes this ground should be enlarged by parkway removal, restored, and treated as a memorial to those who died in this early American labor dispute.

A section-by-section approach to parkway removal that involves different segments of the community for each section is contrary to the spirit of regional cooperation we should be encouraging. The lower Niagara is a single, organic entity and should be thought of and treated as such. We all would benefit variously from the restoration of the natural landscape along the top of the gorge, and we should all work together to accomplish this goal.

Bob Baxter, Ransomville


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Niagara Heritage Partnership

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Niagara Falls, New York 14302-1723