By DON GLYNN
Niagara Gazette — In the wake of the bombing at Boston, officials have stepped up security at the Niagara Falls State Park, a travel destination that attracts upwards of eight million visitors every year.
"We have an increased presence of police now in the park. There are more patrols and more activity with our officers," said Mark Thomas, western district director of the regional state parks commission. "We're also bringing back public safety rangers earlier than usual because of Boston," he added.
Traditionally the unarmed rangers, under the supervision of the state park police, are hired for the prime season, starting on Memorial Day weekend and ending in early September.
"They're the eyes and ears on the ground, assisting our officers. All of that (added security) is a direct result of what happened at Boston," Thomas added, alluding to the explosions that killed three persons and injured scores of others near the finish line at the Marathon.
During a park commission meeting Wednesday, Major David Page of the state park police, said his officers routinely provide support services to the city of Niagara Falls in the event of any violent crimes.
"When there's something bad happening in the city and they're short of staff, we will respond to those calls," Page said.
Thomas also cited the ongoing assistance that the U.S. Border Patrol provides as a partner in law enforcement and assuring the protection and safety of visitors.
"They're (the agents) in our parks extensively — in Niagara Falls as well as other regional parks — because its public lands and open space," Thomas explained.
After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the state park police regularly conducted spot inspections of tourists and their bags as they arrived in the Niagara Falls State Park. Those inspections are still carried out on busy weekends but the public, due to security concerns, are never alerted in advance.
As director of the sprawling regional parks system, Thomas is concerned about the acts of terror that erupt.
"All Americans are bothered by the situation we're in right now," Thomas said. "The world has changed. We all need to be more vigilant. The safety and security of ourselves, our families, and our park visitors has to be up to each of us. When anything looks suspicious, people need to tell our police officers about it. We as citizens are part of a safety net of our own freedom."