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Don't just drive by Niagara's beauty

11 June 1999

This is in response to the May 30 letter to the editor by Judi Kozminske "Parkway showcases beauty of Niagara."

Yes, Ms. Kozminske, the Robert Moses Parkway does showcase the beauty of Niagara. Any road that slices through a magical, scenic area like the falls, rapids and gorge, would, of course, offer a splendid view. But isn't there more to experiencing the beauty of nature than merely looking at it from the window of your car?

If our only concern is to provide a pleasant drive-by experience for motorists seeking to avoid the city of Niagara Falls, then the parkway serves us well. Some of us, however, would like to see more. How about a world-class attraction where visitors and locals can experience nature close up? How about encouraging traffic flow back into downtown Niagara Falls and sparking new development? How about getting rid of the Robert Moses Parkway?

Removing the parkway, in particular, the section from the Rainbow Bridge to Lewiston, would give us 6.5 miles of virtually continuous parkland with breathtakingly beautiful hiking and biking trails. We would have a magnificent, family oriented attraction that, for many visitors, would offer a lasting impression of Niagara's true scenic splendor.

In her letter, Ms. Kozminske boasts, "I have no memory of the past to cloud my vision of what this city could be like now." 1, too, have no memory of Niagara prior to the Robert Moses Parkway. It was built before I started kindergarten. Unlike her, however, I have lived here all my life and I have heard the stories of people who do remember. I know what was sacrificed for the sake of a pleasant drive-by experience. For the city of Niagara Falls and on into Lewiston, the Robert Moses Parkway is a barrier and an eyesore. It is a decaying, fenced-in no-man's land that denies access to natural vistas we all should be able to enjoy. Except for the small plot of land that comprises Whirlpool Park and the ridiculously miniscule Devil's Hole Park, there is nowhere to walk or ride your bike safely. In fact, there is only one practical access point for cyclists and that is the pedestrian overpass at Devil's Hole.

Residents of the DeVeaux neighborhood have some of the most awesome natural scenery in the Northeast right in their back yards. Yet in order to get to it, they have to drive, their car. A few daring individuals (many of whom are youngsters), have Improvised short cuts through the chain-link fence, across the four-lane parkway and over the guardrail. Fortunately, heavy traffic is not something you have to worry-about on the parkway.

Whether intended or not, the Robert Moses Parkway has always served as a detour around the City of Niagara Falls. Arguably, this small convenience afforded to residents of Lewiston and Youngstown has, in the long run, contributed to the decimation of the Main Street business district. Today the area is, as Ms. Kozminske correctly points out, one of "boarded-up windows and blight" As a relative newcomer to these parts, she wouldn't know of a time, not very long ago, when Main Street was a thriving commercial district, full of activity and life.

Ms. Kozminske seems to prefer that we write off the area and "let the tourists see the city's best side." Removing, the parkway, she contends, would "force tourists and locals alike" to have to drive down Main Street. We wouldn't want that now, or would we? Main Street is one of the last remaining areas of the city that still retains any of the original architectural charm of Niagara Falls in its heyday. Sure, it's in pretty bad shape right now, but with wise planning and a bit of investment, it could be brought back to life as a colorful "old town " business district with visitor-oriented retail and specialty shops as well as stores and services for local residents. It could thrive once again.

Consider, also, if instead of the Robert Moses Parkway, we had open access to the gorge from the Schoellkopf Geological Museum in Niagara Falls, all the way to Artpark in Lewiston. Imagine hiking and bicycling through reclaimed parklands that have been restored with native trees, grasses and wildflowers.

Imagine visitors from around the world spending not a mere three hours in Niagara but a whole day, enjoying the sunshine and fresh air, the educational attractions, the unforgettable scenery and history.

Rather than spend another cent to repave, refurbish and maintain this decrepit road-way, we should petition the state to tear it up and restore it to parkland. The eventual cost of totally rebuilding the parkway has been estimated at nearly $100 million. Removal would cost only about $2 million. The elimination of maintenance costs alone would pay for the work in less than 10 years.

Other areas of the country have already realized the potential of environmentally-minded "ecotourism" attractions. Cleveland, for example, has been very successful developing and marketing hiking trails at its nature center. Our Niagara scenery outclasses it a hundred-fold.

Robert Borgatti of Lewiston is a member of the Niagara Heritage Partnership, a group of concerned citizens who advocate the preservation and restoration of the region's natural environment and encourage socially responsible development.


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Niagara Falls, New York 14302-1723