Niagara Gazette

September 8, 2013

GLYNN: Is state parks taking on too much?

By DON GLYNN don.glynn@niagara-gazette.com
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — No one should look a gift horse in the mouth.

In a word, don’t let anyone know that you wished for more by assessing the value.

Take the announcement by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo that Gallagher Beach in Buffalo may become another state park. At last count, New York has 179 state parks and 37 historic sites. The crown jewel, most people agree, is the Niagara Falls State Park, the nation’s oldest such park.

Since the 1950s the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority has owned that valuable Buffalo waterfront stretch including the beach, the Small Boat Harbor with about 1,000 slips, and the grassy area between the two areas. NFTA has been criticized for decades for generally ignoring that asset which many other cities would “die for,” as the governor said Thursday during another stopover in the Queen City.

Under the plan, the waterfront land will be transferred to the Albany-based state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The NFTA will turn over the Small Boat Harbor to the parks agency in 2015. The move would undoubtedly add to the burden of the parks department’s western district that now covers the Niagara, Genesee and Allegany regions. The district headquarters is in Prospect Park here.

Talk to people familiar with the financially-strapped state parks agency and you’ll hear a common reaction to the governor’s announcement: “Why are they giving this (land) to the state parks? They can’t take care of the parks they have now.” That was made evident a couple of years ago when the regional state parks commission leased parklands to area municipalities (e.g. Joseph Davis State Park to the Town of Lewiston; Woodlawn Beach — to the Town of Hamburg; and Knox Farm State Park to Town of Aurora) because they couldn’t afford to maintain them.

Just a few years ago, state parks officials in Albany were complaining about the backlog of some $650 million in urgent capital needs. Subsequently the Cuomo administration tried to close that gap but the funding commitment can hardly reverse the drastic decline in the infrastructure and the deteriorating facilities at many sites in the statewide system.

Looking at the state parks’ overall record and endless budget problems, it’s hard to imagine that the necessary funds and work force will be in place within the next three years to operate and maintain the Buffalo waterfront site. 

In fact, here’s a prediction. The Bills will win the Super Bowl. The City of Niagara Falls will gets its share of casino revenue the same year it’s due. And those three aging and crumbling buildings in Fort Niagara State Park, Youngstown, will be re-opened as a splendid resort before that first state park in Buffalo is developed. 

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STILL PUZZLING: In his new book “The Annals of Unsolved Crime,” author Edward Jap Epstein takes at look at some of the most notorious and mysterious events of the past two centuries. Among the cases he re-visited are two with links to the Niagara area:

• The unsolved slaying of Sir Harry Oakes on July 7, 1943, at his home in Nassau, the Bahamas. Oakes, a native of Maine, and his family once lived in a 30-room mansion in Niagara Falls, Ont., with a sweeping view of the Horseshoe Falls. The refurbished Tudor-style residence is now the headquarters for the Niagara Parks Commission. Today, Sir Harry’s descendants are heavily invested in this area’s tourist industry. Oakes’ half-charred body was found on a smoldering mattress. Police said the perpetrator probably had started the fire to cover up the crime.

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A NUISANCE: As more communities complain about the influx of Canadian Geese, the problem has cropped up in Fort Niagara State Park. At a cursory glance the other morning, I counted more than 50 resting on a soccer field. As you know, it’s what they leave behind is what’s annoying. Obviously the geese can’t be hunted in the state park but their drop-in visits are bound to irk coaches, players and spectators during the Niagara Pioneer Soccer League games, not to mention the picnic goers.

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TRIVIA QUIZ: The answer to Thursday question — the New York State Lottery was legalized in 1966.

Contact Reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246.

Contact Reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246.