Niagara Gazette — Wire fencing for hundreds of feet, orange cones marking work zones, and heavy-duty construction equipment along paths where tourists usually tread.
It’s hardly a welcome mat for any of the eight million annual visitors to the nation’s oldest state park. That’s the scene, however, on the 70-acre Goat Island, the parcel that separates the 182-foot American Falls and the 175-foot Horseshoe Falls.
By late May, though, when the prime 2013 tourist season is launched, visitors will find vast improvements at three major sites on the island: the Cave of the Winds, Luna Island and Three Sister Islands.
A closer look at the overall plan, part of Landscape Improvement Program developed by the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation:
• LUNA ISLAND: A small island just a stone’s throw from Goat Island, separating the tiny Bridal Veil Falls from the American Falls. The soil is severely compacted, tree roots are exposed and there is serious soil erosion. Crews will remediate the soil, import new soil more adaptable to the conditions and plantings that should survive longer. Also, the work includes new pedestrian walkways, overlook improvements, enhanced landscaping as well as new benches, light posts and railing. (Estimated cost: $1.18 million).
• CAVE OF THE WINDS: One of the most popular attractions on the island, it is operated by the regional state parks agency, not a private concessionaire. Major improvements planned: The elevator building, upgrade of the electrical system and replacement of elevators that carry visitors to the foot of the gorge, and refurbishing the tunnel leading to the outdoor gorge walks. (Cost: $1.4 million). The cave had been scheduled to end operations for the season Oct. 26 but the closing date was moved to Oct. 20 after a number of rocks fell from atop the gorge onto the viewing areas below. Subsequently, the site was inspected for any loose rock and crews did scaling to stabilize that part of the cliff. Due to the improvements planned, no off-season gorge trips will be offered this year.