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Restore Niagara Parklands; don't exploit their wilderness

Niagara Gazette, 8 April 2001


Dear Editor:


The Niagara Heritage Partnership believes that recent plans for Niagara are seriously flawed, both the State’s “pilot project” for the Niagara gorgetop parkway, together with a study group’s consolidation of previous waterfront plans and its recommendations.  Neither are guided by a far-reaching vision of a Niagara Reservation and extended park system that emphasizes its essential characteristic, the natural environment, its preservation and potential restoration.


The lack of vision is especially disappointing because such a guiding philosophy has been readily available for over a century; the Olmsted-Vaux Plan was, in fact, used to reclaim the Niagara Reservation from inappropriate commercial exploitation in the late 1800s.  New York State Parks Commissioner Castro, moreover, has recognized the value of the Olmsted approach and has in recent months often repeated the state’s intention to more diligently implement its guidelines.  Unfortunately, both the state’s pilot project creators and the study group seem cheerfully oblivious to this intention and incapable of imagining the consequences of their proposals.  It is understandable that some politicians and others are beginning to look toward federal levels of government to learn what part they might take in the preservation and reclamation of our parkland.


To be fair, the pilot project may be a timid first step toward parkway removal, in which case we would be pleased with this initial piece of progress.  Likewise, the study group’s recommendations are in a large part praiseworthy—they do pay some attention to Olmsted, such as suggesting the creation of a “Frederick Law Olmsted Interpretive Center,” relocating the State Parks maintenance facility away from gorgetop, and the restoration of the Upper Grove at Prospect Point.  But inadvertently, or by design, the pilot and study group’s proposals also come together to facilitate commercial exploitation of the gorge.  The Niagara Heritage Partnership has elaborated on our concerns about the pilot project in a letter to Mr. Thomas B. Lyons, the State Parks Director of Environmental Management.  This letter, with its over 200 cosigners, can be read at


Beyond what was mentioned in the letter, we believe that cumulative affects of proposals need to be discussed before action is taken.  Constructing elevators into the gorge at Whirlpool State Park, for example, as recommended by the planning group, would certainly increase access, but too much.  Combined with elevators at Prospect Point, with a capacity of 2,400 people per hour, some of whom would be descending to gorge trails, this could easily result in five or ten thousand people a day clambering over gorge trails.  Soon there would be a clamor for “improved trails,” and soon after that the gorge would resemble a Coney Island boardwalk, and the very thing we sought to promote, a wilderness experience of stone, water and foliage with its aura of solitude and magic, will have been destroyed, a victim of its own success.


People have called the Niagara Gorge “The Grand Canyon of the East,” but it is important for us to remember that ours is a fragile slice of wilderness that must be protected, only about 5 miles long, not 277 miles, and we need to be very careful about the kinds of development we encourage or we risk losing it all.



Bob Baxter

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Niagara Heritage Partnership

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Niagara Falls, New York 14302-1723