Story and photo by Terry Duffy
"I think it's a great idea. Finally the town is at the forefront for a park that has long been neglected."
So commented Town of Lewiston Supervisor Steve Reiter this week on the town's application before the Niagara River Greenway Commission seeking more than $5 million in Phase 1 Greenway funding for a host of improvements eyed for 357-acre Joseph Davis State Park in Lewiston.
The town, which entered into a 10-year maintenance/operating agreement last year with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, has been active in planning the future of the park ever since. Town Highway Department crews started off by repairing and grooming the park to once again become inviting for visitors. Detailed presentations targeting park improvements were aired at Town Board meetings last year, a master plan was developed and the Joseph Davis Park Local Development Corporation was formed to plot the park's future
All have culminated into a document now before the Niagara River Greenway Commission that will be reviewed Tuesday, Jan. 17. The session begins at 2 p.m. with a meeting of the executive committee and follows with the 44th annual meeting of the Niagara River Greenway Commission at 3 p.m. That session, which will review the JDP proposal along with others before Greenway, takes place at the Beaver Island State Park Clubhouse on Grand Island. The latter session is open to the public.
Titled "The Joseph Davis State Park Phase I Capital Improvement Project," the Lewiston proposal requests Greenway funding assistance of $450,000 annually to the town, allowing it move on a number of high profile improvement projects under the Phase 1 schedule. The town noted that the more than $5 million in funding is considered as a leadoff, "Towards an overall $10 million project that will have an ongoing positive impact on the region and New York State for decades to come."
Highlights of the town's current Greenway Phase 1 request totaling $5.7 million include:
•The Buffalo Audubon Society Nature Center, with a budgeted cost of $3.25 million, of which $1 million is being requested in Phase 1 funding for start-up costs.
•A new visitor's center, roughly 10,000 square feet in size, with a budgeted cost of $1 million, with $905,000 requested in the Phase 1 budget under "Welcome Center."
•A new boat launch into the Niagara River, with a budgeted cost of $500,000. The town's proposal also requests $1 million in Phase 1 funding to "Prepare and Start Boat Launch."
•A new campground, which requests $300,000 in Phase 1 funding for the building of log cabins on the edge of the river and forecasts a $500,000 operating budget.
Other amenities to the park, listed in the campground request item as "main campus improvements," call for new pavilions, restrooms, a playground, dog park, walking trails, and disc golf course improvements whose actual costs were not detailed.
•Road and parking lot enhancement, with a budgeted cost of $500,000 for pavement improvements in Phase 1.
•Also proposed is a water taxi service whose budgeted cost was not identified. The request document submitted by the town to Greenway stated it "would reduce bridge traffic, reduce fuel costs and improve the environment air quality of idling vehicles, while also providing "a new 'Gateway' between the United States and Canada that will make Joseph Davis State Park another American destination."
Other items contained in the proposed budget request include: engineering, $300,000; playground area improvements and new equipment, $200,000; three new shelters, $200,000; extending the fishing deck, $100,000; repairing existing buildings, bathrooms and stone fronts, $150,000; installing a new sledding hill, $50,000; starting nature camp programs, $75,000; and creating trails through the bird preservation area, $20,000. Also miscellaneous items such as: equipment and furniture, $200,000; marketing and promotion, $150,000; contingencies, $200,000 and new employees, $200,000.
Throughout the document the town praised its proposals as being the ultimate answer for Joe Davis' future, a project labeled as the "community's will to make the best of a bad situation." In its comments under "Clear Benefits" finds the following:
"The Town of Lewiston's Joseph Davis State Park Phase I Capital Improvement Project has endless benefits for the community, Niagara River Greenway, and Western New York region as a whole. The project will improve the aesthetic beauty of the Park, leading to better environmental conditions and education of its important resources. The project will result in a better view of the area to travelers crossing our Gateway, and will provide an increase in safety with improved facilities for residents and visitors and increased incentive for our visitors. The resulting benefits in public well-being, environmental education and conservation, and economic viability make this project beneficial to the entire region of Western New York and the Niagara River Greenway."
Of the proposal itself, Reiter commented, "I think this is one of the few times that we're well within the guidelines of the Greenway." He added that discussions thus far with State Parks on the project and the park's long-term future have also gone well. "They've indicated quite an interest," said Reiter, both with the Greenway proposal and the town's long-term ambitions for the park, which include a longer operating agreement extending into decades.
Thus far, State Parks officials have shown clear interest on some of the proposals, but have also questioned others. In a letter to Neil Nolf, who serves as board chair of the town's Joseph Davis Park Development Corporation, Mark W. Thomas, western district director of NYSOPRHP, conveyed "full support" for the Audubon Society Nature Center and for the paving and repair of roads at JDP. But he also went on to raise issue with others contained in the plan, namely the visitor's center, the campground and the taxi service. "We are very concerned that the CFA also includes a number (of) projects that present significant issues and challenges, including some projects that had not been previously presented for our consideration," wrote Thomas. "Specifically, we are not prepared at this time to endorse the visitor center, the water taxi service and its associated international port of entry facility or the proposed campground. Consistent with the master plan and our agreement with the town, State Parks cannot support these projects without careful, thorough and substantive review."
When asked of State Parks' concerns, Reiter said the proposals are all included in the JDP Master Plan. "All those projects are in the park's master plan," said Reiter. "We're still awaiting his (Thomas') review.
Reiter closed on a note of optimism, commenting, "Our view (from discussions with State Parks) is that once we get funding in place State Parks will put this (improvements and securing a longer operating agreement) on a fast track."
It all gets under way Tuesday with the Greenway Commission review.