The New York Power Authority announced Dec. 1 the completion of a $2.1 million wetland restoration project for Little Beaver Island.
The work involved returning a natural habitat area to the shores of the Niagara River, a large portion of which has been altered over time by development. The project is one of eight habitat improvement projects that are part of the 2007 relicensing of NYPA's Niagara Power Project by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The project was a joint partnership between NYPA and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
"The relicensing of the Power Authority's Niagara Power Project has brought many benefits to Western New York that are valued at more than $100 million, to date. It is especially rewarding when the Power Authority can help return the natural beauty to a special place like Little Beaver Island, for the community to enjoy and to help the local environment flourish," said D. Patrick Curley, a NYPA trustee.
"Beaver Island has a big part in my heart," commented Curley, who held a variety of managerial and maintenance jobs at Beaver Island State Park during the 1950s and 1960s that, he added, "put me through high school, undergraduate and then graduate school."
"We are thrilled to work with the New York Power Authority on this important restoration project. Beaver Island is a terrific park for Western New Yorkers who want to experience the wonder of the Niagara River and this project at Little Beaver will help restore the natural environment and secure the future of this sensitive habitat," said Rose Harvey, commissioner of the NYSOPRHP.
Little Beaver Island is within the boundaries of Beaver Island State Park, which is located off the southern portion of Grand Island, and operated by NYSOPRHP.
The Little Beaver Island project included extensive plantings of native vegetation such as red maple and black willow, installing a nesting platform for ospreys, improving a wildlife observation area, and constructing an American with Disabilities Act-compliant kayak launch and offshore berms to reduce shoreline erosion. According to NYPA, the restored vegetation is "of critical importance as it will help provide food, cover and other habitat value for multiple species of fish and wildlife, and attract greater numbers of fish and wildlife to the island and its shores." Wetlands also filter rainwater runoff and assist in flood control.
Approximately 10 acres of the island were restored to their original wetland habitat that had existed until the 1950s before they were filled in during dredging operations associated with recreational improvements at the park.
Restoration of the island wetland began in late 2010 and continued through the winter with excavation of the fill area completed in early 2011. Bringing in marsh topsoil and planting of wetland vegetation in the water and the riverbank took place during the summer of 2011. The newly restored wetland will be monitored for five years by NYPA to verify that it is functioning and that it can remain viable for an extended period.
The large amount of fill removed from the wetland - which was the fill put there during the 1950s - was moved to expand and improve safety at the existing Sledding Hill, a popular wintertime location adjacent to the island but within the park grounds.
Original wetland soil and seeds that had existed in the area before being covered by the fill were reclaimed. Additional wetland marsh topsoil was required and was brought to the island to complement the natural material. The topsoil was stabilized with erosion control blankets and seeding, and then planted according to a native marsh planting plan specific to the types of wetland found on the island.
The new kayak-launch on the island was installed in Beaver Creek on the northern shoreline, southeast of the pedestrian bridge and adjacent to the marina parking lot. It is anticipated to remain in the water year-round and will also accommodate canoes.
NYPA constructed a wildlife observation trail along the boundary of the wetland to replace an earlier trail that was removed to accomplish the wetland restoration. A raised observation berm was installed overlooking the wetland to provide park visitors with a panoramic view of the restored wetland. As part of the trail and overlook, an interpretive sign program was developed.
In addition, an osprey nesting platform has been installed. The platform will provide additional nesting opportunities to help establish an osprey breeding population along the Niagara River.