It's estimated that over one million Irish died during the Great Potato Famine of the 1840's. The cause of the disaster was a blight that ruined the potato crop, the
staple of the Irish diet. The historical record shows that British policies towards the Irish (whom they regarded as inferior), such as continued exports of grain and
other foodstuffs out of the Isle in the midst of the widespread hunger and suffering, were largely responsible for the appalling death toll.
Rocks being a ubiquitous feature of the Irish countryside, the British got the great idea of putting Irish men, women and children to work from dawn to dusk building
stone fences around fields and pastures, the mansions and estates of landed gentry (to protect their property from the hungry hordes) and sometimes, far away from
anything at all, out in the middle of nowhere, fencing off nothing from nothing for a mouthful of food. These were named "famine walls" by the Irish.
To this day, unbeknownst to most tourists, many of the stone fences that crisscross Ireland are famine walls.
The British approach was that not only are we entitled to subject the Irish to mass starvation, but to add insult to injury, we should require them to participate in
"make-work" projects building famine walls.
Fast forward to the spring of 2014, and it appears that the New York Office of State Parks is borrowing a page from history as they emulate the British, first
depriving the city and then offering "opportunities" in the guise of volunteer work, putting folks to work sprucing up the grounds, facilities and equipment of the
Niagara Falls State Park, the wellspring of their own misery and oppression.
Think comparing the plight of the city of Niagara Falls, as inflicted on it by State Parks, to the Irish potato famine is far-fetched? Try telling that to the crowds
that gather every afternoon at Community Missions, Heart and Soul or one of the other soup kitchens or homeless shelters here, whose resources are being stretched to
Eight million tourists a year visit Niagara Falls State Park, yet the city of Niagara Falls is one of the poorest cities in the entire northeastern US. This is the
result of deliberate policies of state government, implemented by the Office of State Parks, designed to sequester the tourist dollar within the confines of the park
and discourage tourists from venturing into the city.
Tourists drive into Niagara Falls State Park from north and south on the Robert Moses Parkway, a limited-access, dedicated road that cuts the city off from its
waterfront and gorge. They are funneled onto a sprawling blacktop expanse of 1200 parking spaces, one of many blatant violations of the Olmsted plan that State Parks
and Delaware North pay lip service to in their glossy brochures and web sites. They gape at the falls for a couple of minutes, ride James Glynn's government-subsidized
Maid of the Mist scow, have a drink at the Top of the Falls tavern, bolt Delaware North burgers, french fries and ice cream, purchase souvenirs and gifts and then
leave on the same parkway to Buffalo, Canada or anywhere but downtown.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo thinks we like this situation so much, the high tax burden, the poverty, the lack of jobs, the lines at the soup kitchens and the kids and grandkids
moved to greener pastures in North Carolina or Texas, that we'd all like to come do some work in the Niagara Falls State Park as part of his new, "I love My Park Day"
famine wall-building program.
"Come join us at Niagara Falls State Park to celebrate I Love My Park Day!" announced State Parks in its trumpeting of Cuomo's latest gimmick.
"Various projects will be available for volunteers to choose from. All will meet in Lot #3 on Goat Island (east end). Transportation will be provided to work areas.
From 9 AM - 12 PM, volunteers will stain the Cave of the Winds railing. Brushes and stain will be provided by the park... Volunteers can also choose to help wash and
clean electric vehicles from 10 AM - 1 PM... Volunteers can also help with general park clean up, removing trash, debris, and remnants of the severe winter in various
locations of the park from 10 AM - 1 PM. All ages are welcome to participate. If desired, please bring water and snacks."
Like they say, bring your own water and snacks, because Buffalo billionaire Jeremy Jacobs of Delaware North ain't about to give any away. That's how he got to be a
billionaire. And that's also why State Parks filled the bowls of hand-carved, century-old stone drinking fountains at Prospect Point with cement, so tourists have to
buy water from Jacobs instead of getting it from a water fountain for free.
"We're here to show our love not only of parks, (and) New York State, but also humanity in general," one State Parks official actually said, referring to "I Love My
Park Day" and the construction of famine walls.
And as if this situation wasn't surreal enough already, at Riverbend State Park downstate, a guy dressed as Spiderman was brought in to jump about and cavort in front
of youngsters in an effort to entice them into Gov. Cuomo's new child labor initiative.
"I like that I get to have fun in parks and I get to play with my friends," an unsuspecting fourth-grader was quoted as saying at the Spiderman/Parks rally.
"He (Spiderman) wants you all to be a hero, just like he is, by going out and flexing your muscle and volunteering for your parks," said State Parks Commissioner Rose
Harvey, presumably with a straight face.