By Justin Sondel firstname.lastname@example.org
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Prospect Point, the historic plot of land at the edge of the American Falls, has a new look.
State and city officials gathered Wednesday morning to celebrate the completion of the first phase of a $4.2 million project that will see the point and adjacent areas refurbished as part of a $25 million investment into the park from the state that includes the work on Three Sisters Islands completed earlier this summer.
Tom Alworth, the deputy commissioner of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, said part of the challenge with refurbishing sections of the park is allowing the parks’ 8 million yearly visitors to access the best vantage points for the Falls during construction.
“You can imagine the balance we have to strike between allowing the people from all over the world to see this resource while at the same time protecting the resource and protecting this green space,” Alworth said. “I think we’ve accomplished that here.”
The improvements are paid for mostly through a lump-sum accelerated payment of Niagara River Greenway funds from the New York Power Authority.
The authority committed to contributing about $9 million a year for 50 years to several local governments throughout the region after a push from the Buffalo Olmsted Conservancy and the leverage created by the expiration of the licensing agreement between the state and the authority led state lawmakers to pass a law in 2004 meant to fund a continuous system of parks along the Niagara River.
In addition, a New York Times article that ran in May of 2011described the state park as “shabby” and “underfinanced” prompting state officials — including state parks commissioner Rose Harvey — to visit the Falls promising improvements.
State Sen. George Maziarz, R-Newfane, said that the completion of work at Prospect Point and Three Sisters Islands are signs that Harvey and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are following through on their promises.
“When we see these travelers from throughout the world who come here, we owe it to them to make sure that their experience here is a pleasant one, that they walk away from here with a positive impression of Niagara Falls and the state of New York,” Maziarz said.
Mayor Paul Dyster, standing under a oak tree a few hundred feet from the rapids, the slow hiss of the Niagara River rushing over the brink of the Falls in the background, said that part of the charm of the park is its natural feel.
But with millions of visitors walking through the park each year it’s impossible to leave the park in a completely natural state without it showing signs of wear.
“If you leave things alone what happens is that they deteriorate,” Dyster said.
The improvements will ensure that visitors can enjoy the Falls while allowing for natural regeneration in areas like the patch of dirt where the podium was set up, the grass worn away from thousands of visitors passing over the path to get around the fenced-off construction areas.
“Periodically man does have to intervene,” Dyster said.
Assemblyman John Ceretto, R-Lewiston, said that state officials reacted quickly to the New York Times article and to concerns expressed by he, Maziarz and other local officials, coming up with a park improvement plan to restore the “crown jewel” of the state parks system.
Ceretto worked out of Niagara Falls State Park during a nine-year run with the agency’s educational program office.
“Not only did they listen but they reacted to us,” Cerreto said. “And for that I’m forever appreciative.”Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257