At a time when a highly contagious and potentially deadly virus remains a source of near-constant concern, just about everyone is looking for ways to boost their mental health by enjoying activities that can accommodate social distancing.

One of the best ways to find peace and enjoyment under pandemic rules is to find things to do outdoors.

Here in Niagara County, thanks to the timely completion of several outdoor projects, there are new opportunities to celebrate art and history while also enjoying some sunshine.

Downtown, a good example can be found at the Lock Tenders Tribute Monument along the Erie Canal. The restoration of Lock 68 wrapped up in 2019, making three of the 19th century Erie Canal Flight of Five Locks now fully operational. Just last month, three of 14 life-size cast bronze figures honoring the era were installed, with plans to add another five figures next spring.

Residents can now take advantage of a 1.5-hour narrated walking tour that focuses on the heritage of the Lock Tenders. Tours start at 11 a.m. weekdays and originate from the Erie Canal Discovery Center. Reservations are required and more information can be found by visiting www.locksdistrict.com.

The tour is by no means the only way to appreciate the Erie Canal, but it is a new way to enjoy a significant part of the history of the city, the county and the region.

The story of the Lock Tenders is now coming to life thanks to the restoration of the locks and the installation of the bronze statues.

What better way to celebrate art and history in Lockport than to take the tour?

In Niagara Falls, a series of works by local artists have brightened pockets of the city of late. Public art is blossoming all over, the most recent example being the fresh and attractive mural, painted by artist Tara Sasiadek, on the 17th Street side of DiCamillo’s Bakery.

DiCamillo’s is, of course, one of the finest and most visited businesses in general in Niagara Falls, with the bakery’s signature fresh bread and other delicious items drawing consistent crowds for 100 years. The DiCamillo family is to be commended for investing its money in the community.

Elsewhere in the city, Wine on Third owner Shawn Weber partnered with the Downtown Niagara Falls Business Association on a project that allowed local freelance artist Paul Clifton to paint a “Greetings from Niagara Falls” mural on the Ferry Avenue side of Weber’s building.

In the city’s northern end, several murals have been painted under the Amtrak train bridge near Depot Avenue and Main Street as part of the Heritage Arts Mural Project, which was supported by the Niagara Falls Heritage Area through a grant provided by the New York State Health Foundation. The most recent addition was the Black Lives Matter mural, which was produced as part of a collaboration between artists Ashley Kay and Tyshaun Tyson. In the downtown area, on Falls Street, visitors are greeted by the “Let’s Fall in Love” mural.

Projects like the Lock Tenders Tribute Monument and the murals in Niagara Falls enhance the appeal of the community for local residents, and also give visitors attractive places to stop, enjoy some art, learn more about local history and maybe take some pictures or video to capture their experiences. These projects provide a boost for the cities specifically while enhancing the appeal of Niagara County as a whole.

To all the artists and partners who helped bring these projects to life, we say thank you and congratulations on a job well done.

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