By Thomas Cauley
Special to Niagara Frontier Publications
Summer is approaching quickly in Western New York and, with it, a new season of music, art and entertainment.
Earl Brydges State Park, commonly known as "Artpark," has been a hub for performing and visual art in the Buffalo area since its founding in 1974. Located at 450 S. Fourth St., in Lewiston, the state park, which was once the site of an industrial waste dump, is now home to one of the best concert venues in the region.
The indoor concert hall hosts live theatrical and orchestral performances, and the outdoor amphitheater offers a variety of live music. Just last summer, the outdoor concert venue hosted the likes of Dolly Parton, The Band Perry and Barenaked Ladies for live performances, among others.
Known primarily for stunning concerts overlooking the Niagara Gorge, a visitor may fail to realize just how much more there is to do at Artpark. The park offers much more than just fantastic live performances. With a little exploration, it's easy to see there is something for everyone in the one-of-a-kind park.
Hiking, cross-country skiing and fishing are all encouraged in the park. Recently constructed public docks right on the river are now open to fishermen. The summer months bring walleye, smallmouth bass and yellow perch to the Niagara River, all of which can be caught from the park docks. Birdwatchers will find black-crowned night heron and red-tailed hawk inhabiting the park's forests. Picnic areas are also available along the trail, if you are looking for something a little more relaxed. Jogging or hiking one of the trails takes around an hour depending on your pace, but the trails are safe and accessible to all fitness levels.
The inhabitants of Lewiston are no strangers to the beauty of the Artpark trails, but visitors may overlook the opportunity to explore. The 108-acre park hides two hiking trails that are open to the public all year. Both trails begin at the parking area located at the upper end of the park. The upper trail spans 1.3 miles to the power plant connecting to Devil's Hole State Park. The lower trail, spanning 0.7 miles, provides access to the banks of the Niagara River. The trails are stable and well-maintained, but boots and hiking attire are still recommended.
Pets on leashes are allowed on the trails, as well. Also worth visiting is the Lewiston Mound, a prehistoric burial mound built by indigenous Hopewell peoples that was found on park grounds. The site was listed in the National Register of Historic Places the year the park was established, and is one of the few burial mounds in the Western New York/Southern Ontario region.
Now that the weather is warming up, the trails are buzzing with activity. A walk along the gorge can provide good exercise as well as some stunning scenery. A good camera is highly recommended to capture the view - you're gonna want to see this again.
Some students at Niagara University are taking advantage of the venue.
Zach Sharpe, a commuter, makes the Artpark trails part of his weekly routine.
"The Artpark trails are so great and so diverse," he said. "There is a trail for everybody and natural beauty waiting around every corner. I would recommend that anyone who has a chance ... hike the trails at least once."
Roughly a 10-minute drive from Niagara's campus, the trails can be a great way to wind down after a day of classes. Some fresh air can make a world of difference for stress, and help to keep your mind clear.
Artpark offers a variety of art exhibits and workshops, as well. Every summer, Art Camp and Rock Camp are hosted for youth in the area. The Artpark Theatre Academy is offering a brand-new Broadway Jr. program this summer, which will allow students to prepare and present their own Broadway musical. Students will learn acting, dancing and vocal skills, as well as gain experience designing sets and creating media to publicize the event.
Most weekends, family events are hosted. Various art displays have been erected on park grounds since Artpark's founding in 1974, and some still stand to this day. Outdoor sculptures are on display across the park, and feature works from artists such as Alice Adams, Alan Sonfist and Dennis Oppenheim.
Of course, none of these things take away from the fact that live music is Artpark's main selling point, and the summer of 2017 looks promising. This year's Artpark season kicks off May 20 with a live performance from Volbeat, starting at 6:30 p.m. in the Outdoor Amphitheater. Other notable performances in the lineup include Lynyrd Skynyrd, Randy Bachman and Tears for Fears.
The next time you plan to attend a concert at Artpark, perhaps take an entire day to explore, take in the scenery and really enjoy all the park has to offer.