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JAN 06 - JAN 14, 2015

Three Sisters Islands Latest Casualty of State "Improvements" Approved by Dyster

By James Hufnagel

January 06, 2015

It’s shocking really: For the first time Three Sisters Islands are closed to the public. Why? Because the super-expensive $60 per square foot pavers, that Albany consultants designed, for an Albany quarry to make the sale, are so slippery that the Islands must be closed during winter and rainy days.
The old limestone paths that were needlessly replaced had sure footing and served the public for a century without having to close the Islands.

It appears that Three Sisters Islands, a major attraction in the Niagara Falls State Park, from now on will be closed to the public during the tourist off-season.

Presently the stairway below the expanded parking area, as well as the narrow bridge affording access to the islands, have both been gated off with heavy metal barriers bearing signs that forbid trespass on the small, formerly naturally-landscaped archipelago.

One of the most popular features of one of the most popular parks in the world, Three Sisters Islands draw a large percentage of the millions who annually visit Niagara Falls State Park. Generations have reveled in the ability to get right out in the middle of the river rapids, gamboling on well-worn pathways between ancient boulders which bore testament to the primal forces of river erosion and glacial scouring. The three islands were thick with trees, and just a few years ago, a botanical study found each of the islands supporting its own unique set of flora.

Writers, poets, painters and photographers have been enraptured by Three Sisters over the course of our history, drawing inspiration from the unspoiled beauty and unique and breathtaking combination of river and rapids, sun and sky, tree and rock.

It was nice, but now it's gone.

Last year, pursuant to Gov. Cuomo's Niagara Falls State Parks "Landscape Improvements" Plan, Three Sisters Islands were, in the opinion of many, ruined. First, the treasured space was denuded of the bulk of its foliage. Then most of the aforementioned boulders were either buried or hauled away. Bulldozers leveled what was left to allow for ugly, artificial walkways, which are fenced in so that visitors can no longer get anywhere near the river.

Posing as a tourist, this writer spoke on the phone with a staffer at the Lehman Visitors Center in the park (which is now referred to on official State Parks web sites as the "Niagara Falls Visitor Center"), who stated that the reason Three Sisters Islands is off-limits is because visitors may slip and fall on the pavers made slick with ice and accidentally fall into the river above the falls. Seriously, that's what he said.

"We check on it every morning, and on days when it doesn't look too dangerous, we open it up so that people can walk around out there," he added.

It is the $60 per square foot pavers now composing a labyrinth of ugly walkways on the islands, conforming to an Albany-area landscape architecture firm's rigged specifications and purchased and trucked in from an Albany-area quarry, both heavy contributors to Gov. Cuomo's recent successful re-election campaign, that are dangerously slippery when wet. During the winter months, that's most of the time. So the net effect of the "improvements", ironically, is to necessitate the closure of the islands for safety purposes.

Actually, we visited Three Sisters on several different occasions last month, on some days when the temperature was well into the 40's and there was no ice to be found anywhere. The barriers were always in evidence, while a lone worker in a State Parks pick-up truck slowly drove back and forth past the entrance, clearly keeping an eye on the situation.

The so-called "Landscape Improvements" plan, in reality a massive refashioning of the park towards the end of boosting the bottom lines of Maid of the Mist and Delaware North and fattening the wallets of Cuomo campaign contributors, when completed, promises to further isolate the millions of tourists who visit Niagara Falls State Park every year, where they park, sightsee, eat, purchase gifts and souvenirs and then leave without having need or reason to set foot in the city.

It's enough to make you wish there had been at least one local official in a position to influence these matters, to speak and act against the crass commercialization and the sequestration of tourist dollars there, which flow into the pockets of Albany, James Glynn and Jeremy Jacobs instead of city merchants, restaurateurs and souvenir and gift shop-owners. And in fact, there was.

$25 million, or well over half, of the Niagara Falls State Park Landscape Improvements are funded through the Niagara River Greenway. Therefore, the entire multi-year undertaking, in application form, had to be approved by the Greenway Commission.

On July 17, 2012, Greenway Commission Vice-Chair and Mayor of Niagara Falls Paul Dyster presided over the Commission's final discussion and vote on the Niagara Falls State Park Landscape Improvements plan.

According to the minutes of the meeting concerning the Landscape Improvements Plan, just the following two questions were asked by Commissioners: "Are these projects just maintenance?" and "What is the period of time and how will the funding work?"

The following questions, apparently, were not asked: "Will there be an opportunity for local citizens to provide input to the plan? Have the various projects, which involve substantial impacts on the landscape and river, been approved by state and federal regulators? Have any economic impact studies been done to determine if expanding parking and vending in the park will affect businesses in the city?"

According to the minutes, "Vice Chairman Paul Dyster called for a vote with a majority finding the project consistent to the Niagara River Greenway Plan."

So for all the protestations on Mayor Dyster's part that he has no direct influence on happenings in the Niagara Falls State Park, when he actually had an opportunity to make a difference, when it was most critical to the future of his city and when it was still largely unnoticed by the majority of citizens, he sat mute.





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