Niagara Gazette

December 26, 2013

GUEST VIEW: Falls tourism and the parkway removal initiative

By Bob Baxter
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Soon 2014 will begin — and 17 years will have passed since the Niagara Heritage Partnership first proposed the Robert Moses Parkway be totally removed between Niagara Falls and Lewiston.

The gorge rim, it was proposed, should then be restored to natural landscapes (with hiking and bicycling trails along the entire length), creating stunning new, accessible parkland; this restoration would have the potential to be the focus of a newly developed, regional market for ecotourism at Niagara.

A brief history of the issue is posted in abundance at www.niagaraheritage.org.

There are large numbers in favor of total removal — over 4,000 individuals have signed petitions, and 85 organizations, some state and national, with a membership base of over one million, have also endorsed removal.

While we’ve compiled impressive supporting numbers on the issue of parkway removal, we’ve scarcely scratched the surface; hundreds of thousands of more people in search of natural, green vacations for families and groups are poised to visit. We could offer tours designed especially for them; they could design their own, online, encompassing the region. We could use direct marketing techniques to encourage groups to hold conferences here for extended stays.

But when those opposed are not ignoring evidence of strong support for removal, what’s their reaction? They say, “Those people aren’t from around here.” Our response to that is: “Yes, that’s one definition of tourists.”

Additionally, in response to critics who’ve long insisted the NHP was unwilling to compromise, we have, in fact, compromised. In accordance with EDR findings, which determined the stretch of parkway between Findlay Drive and the city line was the most significant and should be the first section removed, we agreed that totally removing the parkway from downtown Niagara Falls to the city line at Devil’s Hole would still permit the goal of developing an ecotourism market and we’d be willing to compromise for that. This we did in spite of the fact that unrestricted parkway traffic would still be permitted to drive over the power project and under one end of the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, something we’d argued was a threat to homeland security. We’d written to the proper authorities about this, and also informed Senator Maziarz and Assemblyman Cerreto (neither of whom responded).

On Dec. 3 it was announced that Niagara University plans to develop a center for “high-tech innovation” regarding tourism development. This center has been named the Niagara Global Tourism Institute, and as such, according to Bonnie Rose, Niagara University’s vice president of academic affairs, will focus their “strong commitment and drive” to “bring everything we have home to Niagara Falls and Western New York as quickly as possible.” Mayor Paul Dyster strongly supports the Institute.

That point aside (though it’s not a minor one if that perception shapes early attitudes that might influence the Institute), one of the Tourist Institute’s initial investigations should be: Which new populations of tourists could be directly marketed with the gorge parkway totally removed and the restoration of natural scenery underway? All the facets of ecotourism should be the major focus. The Institute has stated the mapping “out of assets that we have” will be one of their first research projects; for a list of the regional assets we have related to wildlife, of interest especially to birders, www.nfwhc.org would be of help. That the Niagara River and its shorelines has been designated a Globally Significant Important Bird Area since 1996 should also be of major interest. The Audubon Society and other environmental organizations should be consulted to assist with this mapping of assets.

Envisioning miles of a vibrant new park along the gorge rim, young trees beginning to grow, long-grass, wildflower meadows attracting ground-nesting birds, butterflies fluttering in this serene landscape, the old growth forest at DeVeaux extending its edges toward Whirlpool Park where it will flourish into an old growth over a century from now for those not yet born — and then imagining the naturalists, hikers and hiking clubs, the bicyclists, photographers, artist-painters, those interested in the restoration, the reclaiming, of natural scenery, the botanists for native plant life unique to this area, geologists, and others, both residents and visitors, for whom the park would be attractive year around, summer and winter, spring and fall for migrating birds, and for the autumn foliage — this is necessary for the Tourism Institute if it is genuinely interested in the use of “cutting-edge innovation” to revitalize the tourism market here at Niagara.

Bob Baxter is the conservation chair of the Niagara Heritage Partnership.

Bob Baxter is the conservation chair of the Niagara Heritage Partnership.