By Larry Austin
Island Dispatch Editor
The Charles N. DeGlopper Memorial Expansion Project received a vote of support from the Niagara River Greenway Commission Tuesday.
After an impassioned presentation by Town Supervisor Nathan McMurray about DeGlopper and the park that bears his name, the Greenway Commission decided by a 10-2 vote that the project was consistent with the Greenway concept of interconnected parks, river access points and waterfront trails along the Niagara River from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario.
McMurray described DeGlopper's life and death during the D-Day invasion and noted the Medal of Honor recipient is memorialized today in France and at Fort Bragg, but not on Grand Island.
"This is a scar that never really healed," McMurray said of DeGlopper's death, and he said the park expansion is a way to help Grand Island heal, tell DeGlopper's story, and connect the Island.
McMurray said fundraising has secured $1 million already with in-kind services and dozens of pot lucks and basket raffles.
Jo Johnson of Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper, a member of the Niagara Relicensing Environmental Coalition, spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting. She said NREC "was not able to achieve a consensus for consistency" regarding the DeGlopper Memorial Expansion Project, but offered a few recommendations to the commissioners to consider when deliberating. She said the coalition was concerned with the amount of "hardscape symbols and statues" in the project, pointing out that over the years more than $1.8 million of Greenway funding has been allocated toward statues, whose benefit is debatable.
McMurray, who choked up when he read a letter about DeGlopper written by DeGlopper's Sunday school teacher, reminded the commission of the town's and state's work on the West River bike trail project, Scenic Woods and Assumption Cemetery projects and said an improved DeGlopper Memorial will be "this magnificent park in the middle of it all."
The project received vocal support from Ron Hayes, representing the state Department of Transportation on the commission, who said the park is on Grand Island Boulevard, a state recognized bike trail. Lynn Marinelli, representing Empire State Development on the commission, concurred and said Grand Island could become a cycling mecca.
Though commission member Sam Magavern, who voted no with Greg Stevens, said the DeGlopper Park is beyond the greenway's three-mile boundary, Mark Thomas of the State Parks said the entire Island should be considered within the greenway.
Erik Anderson, chairman of the DeGlopper Expansion Committee, was present at the meeting and praised McMurray's presentation, saying it was "right to the point. I think it was dead-on."
McMurray "really believes in the project, he really believes in the Island, he really believes in the things that are going on," Anderson said.
The project will not just connect physical trails from land to water, Anderson said, but from one heart to another.
"And he's right about one thing: this will connect Grand Island forever," Anderson said of McMurray. "This is something that means a lot to all of us ... , but it's going to mean a lot to the veterans and their families and to the DeGlopper family. There's no doubt about that."
The town would next make a presentation seeking funds from a greenway standing committees at a meeting sometime in March.