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Cuomo: $6.4 million grant from Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation to improve Niagara Shoreline Trail, Genesee Valley Greenway

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Wed, Aug 21st 2019 09:40 pm

Grant leverages $19.1 million in total investment, including $4 million from state to forge major connections to Empire State Trail

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced $6.4 million in grants from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, in addition to $4 million in state funding, which will support ongoing improvements to the Genesee Valley Greenway State Park and the Niagara Shoreline Trail in Western New York. The projects will help make key connections to the Empire State Trail. The not-for-profit Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation was created after the 2014 death of Wilson, the former owner of the Buffalo Bills and a co-founder of the American Football League.

"This support from the Wilson Foundation, coupled with new state funding, will help repair, enhance and expand recreational opportunities on these multiuse paths in two beautiful parts of Western New York, which Ralph Wilson loved so much," Cuomo said. "His legacy will strengthen tourism, increase safety for bicyclists and hikers, and further revitalize communities that are better connected."

"As an avid bicyclist, I know how important this significant funding will be as we continue our efforts to improve connections to the Empire State Trail," said Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul. "We are fortunate that Ralph Wilson's spirit lives on through generous philanthropic efforts. In celebrating his legacy, we are grateful to the foundation's commitment towards our regional trail systems. These investments will expand recreational opportunities, and boost the tourism industry and economy of Western New York."

Both the Genesee Valley and Niagara projects will also strengthen significant connections to the Empire State Trail, a statewide project announced in January 2017 by Cuomo. Scheduled to be completed by the end of 2020, the Empire State Trail will be a continuous 750-mile route spanning the state from New York City to Canada and Buffalo to Albany, creating the longest multiuse state trail in the nation.

Plans for the Genesee Valley Greenway, a 90-mile former canal towpath and railway bed in Monroe, Livingston, Wyoming, Allegany and Cattaraugus counties that has been a State Parks multiuse trail since 2011, call for $6.5 million in improvements.

The Greenway connects to the Empire State Trail at Genesee Valley Park in Rochester, and is used for snowmobiling, hiking, biking, horseback riding and cross-country skiing. The Wilson Foundation also has awarded an additional $2.5 million dependent on the state locating matching funds to be used to support further Greenway improvements identified in the strategic plan.

Administered by State Parks and the not-for-profit Friends of the Genesee Valley Greenway, the Greenway trail runs from Rochester to Hinsdale in Cattaraugus County. Along the way, the Greenway passes the Village of Cuba in Allegany County, a center of the state's dairy industry that once billed itself as the Cheese Capital of the World.

Near Buffalo, four projects totaling $4.1 million are planned for the Niagara Shoreline Trail, including:

•One mile of new trail south of the Village of Lewiston.

•A study on how to close gaps in the shoreline trail from Lewistown to Lake Ontario, and to evaluate how to repair an impassable section of the Niagara Gorge Trail known as the Talus Slope.

•Creation of a public outreach effort on implementation of construction on additional new trail sections in Lewiston.

•The Niagara Shoreline Trail will connect to the Empire State Trail in Niagara Falls.

The Wilson Foundation is providing a grant of $1.4 million to support this work, with another $2.7 million provided by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, State Department of Transportation, the New York Power Authority, the Niagara River Greenway and the town of Lewiston.

New York State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid said, "This work being announced today will bring more people to Western New York to use these trails, strengthening the local recreational economy, as well as adding even more vitality to Gov. Cuomo's visionary Empire State Trail. Ralph Wilson cared deeply about this region, and his impact in our state through these trails will continue to benefit people for many years to come."

New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez said, "Building a 21st century transportation system that improves quality of life and promotes tourism and economic development is a core mission of the New York State Department of Transportation, which is why we are proud to be a part of Gov. Cuomo's historic Empire State Trail initiative. The Genesee Valley Greenway State Park and the Niagara Shoreline Trail are natural treasures, and these projects will make it easier for New Yorkers and visitors to our state to experience all that they have to offer."

NYPA President and CEO Gil Quiniones said, "As part of the 2007 relicensing of the Niagara Power Project, the New York Power Authority committed more than $450 million over 50 years to the Niagara River Greenway. This funding will help develop and enhance a linear system of state and local parks and conservation areas linked by a network of trails from the northern mouth of the Niagara River at Lake Ontario along the Niagara River to the City of Buffalo at Lake Erie. Working with partners like the Wilson Foundation and the governor's office, we can more quickly fill in the gaps of those trails and broaden the vision of connecting trails for hikers and bicyclists across the state."

Empire State Trail Executive Director Andy Beers said, "This gift from the Ralph C. Wilson Foundation will help make both the Genesee Valley Greenway and the Niagara Shoreline Trail into even better attractions on the Empire State Trail. Their generous grant will provide Western New York with a trail system that will draw visitors and promote economic development."

Wilson Foundation President and CEO David O. Egner said, "The Genesee Valley Greenway is an incredible natural greenway that connects communities from Monroe to Cattaraugus counties and has the potential to link two beautiful State Parks together in Western New York. We're proud to support this important connection to the Empire State Trail, which will further improve the recreational, transportation and economic development opportunities for the many communities along the 90-mile State Park."

The Wilson Foundation grants will be made to the National Heritage Trust, which will support trail work to be done by the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

In September 2018, the Wilson Foundation launched a $200 million initiative to support parks and trails in Western New York and Southeastern Michigan, with funds to be split evenly between the regions. Half of New York's share was earmarked for rebuilding LaSalle Park in Buffalo, which is planned to be renamed Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park, with the rest to be used for regional projects.

That same month, the foundation provided a $6.5 million grant for the Empire State Trail initiative in Western New York for gateways, signage, kiosks, bike racks and other amenities between Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Rochester. That work also included 7.4 miles of Niagara Shoreline Trail to connect Niagara Falls to Tonawanda, as well as a new gateway and trail improvements at Devil's Hole State Park. The goal is to have the shoreline trail ultimately connect to the shorelines of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.

The foundation's continued funding builds on New York state's $23 million investment to improve the Empire State Trail from Buffalo to Rochester, and to enhance outdoor recreation opportunities in the Niagara Gorge.

Prior to his passing in 2014, Wilson requested a significant share of his estate be used to continue a lifelong generosity of spirit by funding the foundation that bears his name. The foundation has a grantmaking capacity of $1.2 billion over a 20-year period, which expires in January 2035. This structure reflects Wilson's desire for the foundation's impact to be immediate, substantial, measurable and overseen by those who knew him best. For more information, visit http://www.ralphcwilsonjrfoundation.org/.

State Parks oversees more than 250 parks, historic sites, recreational trails, golf courses, boat launches and more, which were visited by a record 74 million people last year. For more information on any of these recreation areas, call 518-474-0456 or visit www.parks.ny.gov.

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