By Joshua Maloni
The two Lewiston projects endorsed last week by the Greenway Commission will receive funding, following approval from the Host Communities Standing Committee on Tuesday.
Mason’s Mission Playground at Marilyn Toohey Park was awarded $200,000, while $100,000 was earmarked for Veterans of Foreign Wars Downriver Post No. 7487’s “Circle of Honor” memorial.
Set to be built behind the Red Brick Municipal Building, the $725,000 Mason’s Mission project will be a full-scale inclusive playground, enabling children of all ability levels to interact with one another. Located on the corner of North Fourth and Onondaga streets, it is situated adjacent to both the Onondaga Trail and a future bike path connecting Greenway Trail sites.
Village of Lewiston Engineer Michael Marino presented details to the HCSC members, with additional comments made by Mayor Anne Welch. Trustees Claudia Marasco and Vic Eydt also were in attendance.
Mason’s Mission founder Jason Evchich told the board members, “Every child deserves the right to play.” He and his wife, Jennifer, have two sons – Mason and Matthew – with a hypomyelinating leukodystrophy that limits their physical ability.
Noting this is the third playground project in three years (the first was built near the Evchich home in Pendleton), he added, “There is a glaring need for what we’re doing.”
Marino explained how the playground ties into the Greenway Plan’s goals of creating access points along the route extending down from the Niagara River in Buffalo to Lake Ontario at Fort Niagara in Youngstown. He said the park would celebrate nature and recreation will educating visitors on sustainability.
Following the meeting, Welch said, “It feels great.” She noted more than $13,000 has been raised by the village, with another $250,000 expected to come from the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York through a grant obtained from former Assemblyman John Ceretto.
“I’m hoping that we can get started on it soon. … It’s going to be great this summer,” Welch said.
Both proposals were endorsed by the Town of Lewiston, one of the HCSC’s voting partners.
Supervisor Steve Broderick said, “I was overwhelmed when I went to the village meeting and Jason spoke on the Mason’s Mission park. How passionate he is. I’m very familiar with the Mason’s Mission park in Pendleton. I think it’s a very good project. I learned a lot from it – an all-inclusive park. I would’ve been the first to call it a handicap park, but an all-inclusive park, I think, is a wonderful idea. We’re happy to be able to support it.”
An artist’s rendering of the Mason's Mission Playground at Marilyn Toohey Park. (Image courtesy of Parkitects)
Former Niagara County Legislator Lee Simonson spoke on behalf of the VFW’s “Circle of Honor” proposal. The $200,000 Academy Park project will be highlighted by new honor stones – one of which will house an eternal flame – as well as a stone circular base with a map of the world, and a large bronze eagle.
He said, “Nothing commemorates or interprets our heritage resources better than a memorial that honors veterans from the greenway. And this memorial will list them by name. Our ‘Circle of Honor’ will stand for hundreds of years and will become a beacon for families across the nation who are interested in learning more about their family history, and how their ancestors and relatives contributed to the freedoms we enjoy today. It will also serve as a springboard for those who wish to learn more about the contributions our region has made in defending American interests around the world.
“Beyond that, it will become one of the landmarks and destinations that draw people to the greenway, so they can explore and discover our spectacular natural resources at the same time.”
So far, the VFW has collected $72,000. Construction on the “Circle of Honor” is set to begin after Memorial Day, with project completion and unveiling set for Veterans Day in November.
Broderick said, “We like supporting our veterans, and we thought that was an absolutely beautiful project. It’s right in the heart of the village; and it’s one of the first things you see coming into the village, and one of the last things you see leaving the village. It really is going to be a nice project, and we’re happy to support it.”
HCSC members offered few comments on the proposals, mostly checking on the cost of Greenway Trail signage within the overall budgets.
Those voting in favor of the Lewiston projects included Broderick; HCSC chairman Thomas O’Donnell, representing the City of Niagara Falls; Paul Casseri (Lewiston-Porter School District); Earl Smeal (Niagara Falls School District); Scott Hapeman (Niagara-Wheatfield School District); Jackie Siegmann (Town of Niagara); Thomas Burgasser (Niagara County); and Lou Paonessa (New York Power Authority).
This group, also known as the Niagara Power Coalition, is responsible for managing NYPA’s annual $3 million contribution. The Power Authority agreed to provide $450 million for greenway projects over the course of 50 years (including $150 million for the HCSC) as part of its relicensing agreement for the Niagara Power Project.
The Greenway Commission voted both projects “consistent” with the Greenway Plan at a meeting one week ago.
A look inside the Host Communities Standing Committee meeting.