by Terry Duffy
The Buffalo Launch Club invites area residents interested in the history and future of Strawberry and Motor Boat islands in the upper Niagara River to an evening program on Saturday, Jan. 25, at the BLC, 503 East River Road, Grand Island.
Presented by the BLC's Heritage/Entertainment Committee and the Grand Island Historical Society, the program, titled, "Two Small Islands in the Mighty Niagara," is expected to delve into the "lore, legend and future" of Strawberry and Motor Boat islands. Both islands have seen significant activity and changes over the years, according to local sources, including private boating and related uses in the case of Motor Boat Island and commercial activity, including significant excavation/dredging operations at times in the case of Strawberry.
The program is expected to feature presenters Curt Nestark, president of the Grand Island Historical Society; Tom Frauenheim, BLC historian, Paul Leuchner, Niagara River historian; Gary Kenline, whose family owned Motor Boat Island from 1937 to 1984; "Lefty" Lowenstroh, who assisted the caretaker at Motor Boat Island after 1937; and Jeffery and Lyle Dinsmore, marine contractors currently doing reconstruction work on both islands.
As noted, both islands have a history.
Strawberry Island dates back to 1814, when British forces used the island as a staging area for a planned troop assault on Buffalo. The island was purchased by New York state a year later for $100, and for the next 125-plus years it saw various activity, including for deposits of construction debris associated with the Erie and Black Rock canals, and also private use for a hotel and a canal. But for the most part its primary use involved that of excavation and/or dredging activities.
After growing to more than 200 acres in the early 1900s, Strawberry Island shrunk dramatically in size due to over-dredging. The island was acquired by the Town of Tonawanda in the 1950s, and in the following decades it fell victim to vandalism, high river waters and erosion problems, shrinking in size to just five acres by the 1970s. New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation acquired the island in 1989. It has undergone various restoration efforts since.
Motor Boat Island was privately owned up to 1984 and was acquired by the state Department of Environmental Conservation in 1998. Now designated as a Wildlife Management Area, the six-acre island houses a variety of colonial nesting birds, including mallards, Canadian geese, ring billed gulls, double crested cormorants, great blue herons, black crowned night herons and great egrets. It is currently undergoing a shoreline Restoration Habitat Improvement Project by the New York Power Authority in cooperation with DEC.
The BLC notes the Jan. 25 event is open to the public. It will lead off with a "Launch Clubber Shore Dinner," and include assorted finger foods followed by dinner featuring carving stations of beef and ham. Cost is $20 per person with an optional cash bar available. Reservations are required.
The "Two Small Islands" program is expected to get underway at 8 p.m.
For further information and dinner reservations, call the BLC at 716-773-7629.