By DON GLYNN
Niagara Gazette — Construction crews appear to be scurrying around major sites on Goat Island in preparation for the annual influx of prime season visitors that traditionally starts Memorial Day weekend.
Mark Thomas, western district director of the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, said the current NY Works program are expected to be completed in May.
“Three Sisters’ should be open by May 1,” said Thomas, referring to the small parcels jutting out into the upper rapids at the eastern end of the island that separates the American and Canadian (Horseshoe) falls. Those islands afford a unique and close-up view of the upper river, several hundred yards above the brink.
The Three Sisters’ $2 million restoration includes new trolley shelter, an expanded parking section, new pedestrian walkways and overlooks, new railings and enhanced landscaping. Luna Island, a tiny parcel that separates the American Falls from the Bridal Veil Falls, has been undergoing extensive changes like new walkways, improved landscaping, new benches, light posts and railings. That contract was initially estimated at $1.1 million.
Other improvements nearing completion include an upgrade of the electrical system in the Cave of the Winds building and the replacement of the elevators that carry visitors to the foot of the falls. Also, the tunnel leading from the elevators to the outdoor gorge walks are being refurbished. That work is estimated at $1.4 million.
State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey predicted earlier the projects would enhance the visitors’ experience at the park. “These locations are very popular vantage points where patrons can get up close and personal with the falls and the might rapids of the Niagara River.”
The projects represent the second phase of a multi-year $25 million commitment to restoring the oldest state park in the U.S. The money is provided mostly from the Niagara River Greenway, funded by the New York Power Authority as part of its 2005 commitment under the relicensing of the Niagara Power Project.
Scott Lawn of Sanborn is the contractor at the Three Sisters Island projects while Mark Cerrone Inc., of Niagara Falls has the contract for the Luna Island work. Both sites have been closed to the public during various stages of that work.
Park officials said that Prospect Point overlooking the American Falls also is targeted for major improvements with the projects planned in two phases. The initial phase starting in mid-May is expected to be completed by mid-October. The second phase, including Prospect Point North (toward the Observation Tower) and the Lower Grove (the area along the American Rapids Trail) will be completed by August 2014.
Officials are confident all the work can be accomplished with minimal disruption.