By Karen Carr Keefe
Senior Contributing Writer
Wheatfield is in the process of defining its borders, enhancing intersection safety and building community pride – all through a project dubbed “Walls in Wheatfield.”
“The project really began by way of a goal of the Wheatfield Enhancement Volunteers to sort of put Wheatfield on the map,” said Wheatfield Council member Curt Doktor, chairman of the volunteer group.
“We were looking for ways to improve Niagara Falls Boulevard, which we really view as our main corridor through town. There are over 10,000 cars that pass through on that route every single day.”
Doktor said the goal is to let those many motorists know exactly where they are: “A lot of commuters, a lot of people, a lot of tourists pass through Niagara Falls Boulevard, and I don’t even think they know that they’re in the Town of Wheatfield.”
Identity, and ultimately safety, were the initial vision for work that was completed in the fall of 2022 with the installation of a decorative wall at the intersection of Nash Road and Niagara Falls Boulevard. The sign on the wall reads: “Wheatfield” and “Farming is our Heritage.”
The reaction? “Very positive feedback,” Doktor said. “Some of the comments that I’ve heard are that it really is a nice ode to our rich agricultural history. But also, it kind of lets people know that we are a community that has class – that has a lot of pride in the community in which we live.
“Our hope, as Wheatfield Enhancement Volunteers, is that it helps instill a sense of pride for the community, for the residents and the people that live here.”
Next will come two similar walls, one at the intersection of Niagara Falls Boulevard and Ward Road, very close to the Town Hall campus; and the other at the intersection of NF Boulevard with Witmer Road, directly across from Oppenheim Park. Completion is expected by the end of this year.
“The hope is that all three walls together make quite a statement,” he said. “They all have similarities – an example being the yellow wheat structures that are iconic of the Town of Wheatfield – you’ll see those on all three walls.
He said the wall at Witmer will depict the town’s connection to Bell Aircraft Corp., “which is right in our backyard. The X-1, which has quite a place in the history or aerospace, was built right here in Wheatfield.” Pilot Chuck Yeager flew the Bell X-1, a rocket engine-powered aircraft, when he became the first to exceed the speed of sound in level flight in 1947.
“Ultimately, our goal as Wheatfield Enhancement Volunteer members, is to make the community, which we love so dearly, even better,” Doktor said.
Pictured are artist renderings of future “Walls in Wheatfield” displays. (Submitted)
He said Rita Kontak of the Wheatfield Garden Club is one of the leaders of the 10-member volunteer group: “She has really played an integral role in pulling together not only the Nash wall … but the ‘Walls in Wheatfield’ vision.”
He said she really took to heart the objective of establishing a distinct identity for Wheatfield.
Kontak noted the Town of Lockport was an inspiration to her when the volunteers were formulating the “Walls in Wheatfield” concept.
“One day in 2019, we were coming home from the Town Hall in Lockport and we drove by the corner of Transit and Dysinger (roads). There, they have two stone walls that read, ‘North Transit’ ” and a tagline reads, “Historic Gateway Corridor,” she explained. “I had my husband, (Tom), pull over and I had to take pictures of this. And I said, ‘We have to do that for our wall.’ ”
Tom and Rita are both involved in the volunteer effort.
She said, prior to that, the area at Nash and Niagara Falls Boulevard had been planted by the DOT around 2005 when it widened that section of the roadway. The plantings became overgrown, and she and her husband, along with a garden club, worked to restore it, but eventually decided more volunteers were needed.
“Our project had been to work to get this as our gateway sign into the town,” Kontak said.
She explained the thinking was that a sign could provide clarity to a confusing situation created because Wheatfield has four different ZIP codes, yet doesn’t have its own unified ZIP code. As a result, locations and business addresses are misidentified as, for example, North Tonawanda, Niagara Falls, Sanborn or Lockport.
“The town, on two occasions in the past, appealed to the post office for our own ZIP code,” Kontak said. “And it came out as a flat ‘no.’ So we had to do something, and this is what we succeeded in doing.”
She said the wall that’s at Nash and Niagara Falls Boulevard has received good reviews.
“It has been overwhelmingly praised and accepted … and it’s part of our mission to improve the appearance of Niagara Falls Boulevard,” Kontak said.
She praised volunteer group member Julie Otto for decorating the wall for seasons and holidays. She also gave credit to both Melius Welding for the sheaf of wheat design that adorns the sign, and Cooper Sign in the Town of Niagara for the illuminated letters.
Doktor said that, simultaneously with the walls project, the No. 1 objective of the Wheatfield volunteer group is safety along the Niagara Falls Boulevard corridor: “We’ve been lobbying for years that we need a center turn lane. We need intersection revitalization in the name of safety improvements.” Other upgrades sought include traffic signals and pedestrian safety measures to prevent further serious accidents that have plagued that corridor for years.
He said the Wheatfield Enhancement Volunteers wrote letters and sought support from other politicians to achieve the goal: “I’d like to say that we played a part in helping get that process on the plan and ultimately start it this year.”
He said that, by the end of this year, the DOT will add turning lanes to all four points of both intersections, at Ward and Witmer. Then, in 2026, it will begin a second project the group has been lobbying for – adding a center turn lane for a 2.1-mile stretch of Niagara Falls Boulevard from Sy Road to Mavis Road.
“The ‘Walls in Wheatfield’ concept is really just an expression of our pride and our love for the community in which we live, and we hope that feeling is contagious with all of our residents, when it’s done,” he said.
Wheatfield Council member Curt Doktor