BUFFALO — Saturday will look much different from one year ago at the Buffalo and Erie County Naval & Military Park. One year ago, the Naval Park was shuttered as a result of COVID-19. No youth encampments, no group tours, no special events.
It was July before the Naval Park was able to welcome visitors, and then only at 25% capacity.
While the park was not able to host youth encampments this spring, Saturday's opening day is a full two months ahead of last year. A ceremony and ribbon cutting will be held at 9:30 a.m. today at the naval park, rain or shine.
“Like many organizations, the past year has been full of challenges.” commented Paul Marzello, president and CEO of the Buffalo Naval Park. “We are able to open on May 1 this year because of our dedicated staff and volunteers, our board of directors and the support of many people that contributed to our All Hands On Deck campaign.”
Money raised by the effort directly supported park operations including personnel cost, ship and exhibit maintenance, overhead expenses, and safety equipment for volunteer docents – most of whom are veterans.
In addition to the COVID-19 challenges, one of the park’s main attractions, USS The Sullivans, began taking on water in February and was in need of emergency repairs. The park launched a Save the Sullivans fundraising campaign with a goal of raising $1,000,000 to cover extensive and permanent repairs to the hull of the 78-year-old Fletcher-Class destroyer.
“Decades of harsh weather in Buffalo have taken a toll on the ship. The severely weakened hull was compromised below the waterline and the ship began taking on water.” commented Marzello, “A full bow-to-stern survey of the ship’s hull has been conducted, and an engineered plan developed for the necessary repairs. It involves applying a two-part epoxy coating to the entire hull below the waterline and the installation of a cathodic protection system that will prevent further corrosion of the USS The Sullivans, the USS Little Rock and the USS Croaker.”
The campaign which is ongoing, has drawn donations from the local community and from around the world. Scott Bieler and the West Herr Automotive Group led the campaign with a $50,000 donation and match challenge to the community. Douglas Jemal of Douglas Development stepped in with an initial $20,000 donation and agreed to take on the role of campaign captain and see the campaign through reaching the goal.
One of the most significant donations to the Save the Sullivans campaign came from 4-year-old Arrow Swartwout who donated the savings in his piggy bank. Arrow was recognized for his generosity last month and will have the honor of being the first official visitor to the Buffalo Naval Park when the Park opens at 10 a.m. “Arrow is a special kid and we wanted to let him know how much we appreciate his donation.” added Marzello. “We invited Arrow and his grandmother to join us at the Opening Ceremony and be the first visitors aboard the ships for the 2021 season.”
The naval park, which welcomes more than 70,000 visitors in a typical year, will continue to implement modifications due to COVID-19. In addition to adjusting exhibits and tour routes to accommodate social distancing, face masks will continue to be required for everyone while visiting the naval Ppark. Tours of the ships (USS Little Rock, USS The Sullivans, and USS Croaker) will be self-guided and have been expanded to include areas above and below deck, although certain compartments will be closed due to social distancing restrictions.
The Naval Park will be open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. All ticketing for the Buffalo Naval Park will be sold online and featured timed ticketing with the last ticket sold each day at 4 p.m. Ticket-holders can begin their park tour anytime within the 30 minute window listed on their ticket. Tickets can be purchased from the park’s website buffalonavalpark.org/visit/buy-tickets.
More information about The Naval Park is available at buffalonavalpark.org.