By Alice Gerard
Grand Island’s system of trails, which includes hiking, bicycle and waterways (blueway trails), was honored April 22 with an environmental excellence award presented by the Erie County Environmental Management Council. It was one of three awards presented for 2022. The other two were for projects in the City of Buffalo: Black Rock Riverside Alliance’s Habitat Project, and a teaming of the Buffalo Zoo, Erie County Department of Environment and Planning and the Buffalo Museum of Science to create a program titled “Pollution Prevention through Art.”
According to Dave Pratt, chair of the town’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, “It’s a pretty prestigious award. We won the award through the efforts of a number of people with respect to what we’re trying to accomplish with our trail system.”
He said, “Grand Island’s got tremendous natural resources. We’re trying to create an ecotourism opportunity here on Grand Island and, through the efforts of Parks and Recreation and the Conservation Advisory Board and some Town Council members, we’ve been developing trails. Not only land trails, but also bike trails and water trails. We created a very nice map through the efforts of Paul Yeager and the Conservation Advisory Board, and the Engineering Department. It shows kayak launches, where you can go paddling on Grand Island.”
Yeager explained his motivation in putting together a trail map for Grand Island.
“We’ve got a lot of people coming to visit Niagara Falls. We’ve got to let people know that (the trails) exist,” he said. “So, I started an exercise. I’ll hike ‘em; I’ll bike ‘em; I’ll paddle. I’ll produce a map.”
He has worked collaboratively with Kevin Cobello, senior engineering assistant for the town’s Engineering Department.
“He did all of the physical mapping to get the symbols on the map and the lines and the roads and the parking lots. That’s what we have published on the town website,” Yeager said.
Yeager added, “The Parks Department redid a bunch of the trails at the Nike Base. They bought the bridge over Big Six Creek to connect to Gallogly. You can hike five miles without ever seeing a house or a road. That’s really impressive.”
He noted, “The town did a great job putting up new trails, putting up wonderful markers and a kiosk with the maps in the front.”
Pratt said, “The thing is that it (the trail system at the Nike Base) has connectivity. That’s what we want to do. We want to build trails that have connectivity. This connects the West River and there’s good parking there. Then it goes east to the Nike Base. It keeps going east, past the Nike Base, to the (Marjory) Gallogly Trail (behind Assumption Cemetery on Whitehaven Road). So, that’s about a five-mile system of trails with all sorts of loops. It’s been open less than a year. They’ve got wood chips down. It’s a very nice trail. Even in the winter, it’s good for cross country skiing.”
Town Councilman Pete Marston said, “We’ve been working to enhance our trails and add onto them. There were existing trails at the Nike Base that we wanted to expand upon, which we did by creating some new trails, putting a bridge in to enable more trails on the other side of Big Six Mile Creek. That was something that the town’s looked to do on and off since the 1990s. I found articles from back in the ’90s, when they were going to build this bridge, and it never happened.”
According to Marston, the trail project at the Nike Base was accomplished with a great deal of collaboration by town departments.
“Everybody worked together on this,” he said. “Our Water Department was down there to put some drainage in. Our Highway Department was bringing in wood chips. The Engineering Department set up the bridge. The Parks Department obviously did the lion’s share of the physical work. I call it a public works project. It was all hands on deck. That’s really good. It’s good when all your departments work together. The result was astounding and very low cost. The Niagara River Greenway was absolutely taken back by how little we spent to do what we did. I think that the bridge was around $10,000. All told, we put about $20,000 into it for the whole kit and caboodle, which is astounding. For what it gave back to the residents, it was a very low cost.”
Goals for the future include connecting the trail at Scenic Woods, off of Sturbridge Lane, with the East River.
“That’s going to take some years to do. There’s a lot of lowland between Scenic Woods and Spicer Creek. We’re going to have to build boardwalks. It’s going to be a big project,” Pratt said.
“We want to promote ecotourism. We want an off-road recreation experience,” Marston said. “Connectivity is a big thing. You build pieces here, and you build pieces there. To connect them together is the big trick. There is a lot of opportunity coming up in the next year or two, so we could potentially do some of that. As developers come in to talk about their vision, I’m not afraid to show them ours and see how they are part of the equation. We’re keeping all of those lines of dialogue open. There are a couple of opportunities floating around out there right now that could be really big.”
“I think that it’s going to help the community to see Grand Island’s emerging identity as an ecotourism destination,” Pratt said. “You can ride your bike along the Niagara River on that West River trail for just about 10 miles if you start way inside of Beaver Island and go all of the way up to Buckhorn. That’s an enormous asset. You can kayak off of Beaver Island and cross over to Motor Island and Strawberry Island and some great birding habitats. There are tremendous rookeries out there. And now, we’ve got some nice interior trails, in addition to the trails and Beaver Island and at Buckhorn. We have the Nike Base Trail, the Gallogly Trail, the Spicer Creek Trail. We’ve got trails at Veterans Park. We have plans to try to develop that further. So that’s why we got the award.”
Yeager credited Conservation Advisory Board member Sam Akinbami with getting the process started for the town to apply for the award. Akinbami, also a member of the Erie County Environmental Management Council, “found this award, brought it to the Conservation Board’s attention, and thought that trails would be a good thing” to recognize the town’s trail system.