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Niagara Falls State Park: Where Concrete is God

By Frank Parlato

They live concrete and money at the Niagara Falls State Park.

Last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he will spend $90 million of the people's money to "improve" 50 state parks across the state.

Of that, about $5 million will go to a business enterprise pretending to be a state park known to the public as the Niagara Falls State Park.

Half will go to improving the administrative offices and the rest will go to "improving" the paid parking lots inside the park.

The "improvements" to parking will include plans to direct more traffic into the park and get tourists parked faster. It will also include using automated paid parking to increase the areas where parking income can be derived, as well as cut down on employee costs.

There will be more paving to maximize and expand paid parking.

Parking is one of the big income streams at the Niagara Falls State Park.

Curiously, the people who run the Niagara Falls State Park website like to pretend that the State Park is hardly a business at all.

The website authors like to write about Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of landscape architecture and the designer of the Niagara Reservation.

They wrote, "Olmsted believed that parks should be places of natural beauty where 'the masses could be renewed.' This philosophy was applied throughout Olmsted’s landscape design for Niagara Falls State Park, with an entire network of footpaths through wooded areas and along the banks of the Niagara River. Today, the oldest American state park retains Olmsted’s vision by staying committed to maintaining native vegetation, preserving its unparalleled vistas and providing public access."

In pursuing their business model, however, the state had to abandon much of the Olmsted vision, even if they do not admit it on their website.

Whether it is paid parking lots, taking up acres of scarce parkland, restaurants and souvenir stores dotting the landscape at every turn, or booths along every pavement trail selling discovery passes, the State Park has swerved far from Olmsted's vision.

For the record, Olmsted's vision was basically four "cardinal" points:

1. Keep the park all green with only native vegetation.

2. Absolutely no commercial enterprises in the park.

3. No man-made gardens, fountains or statues.

4. No parking except for "a few shady harbors."

Despite the fact that Olmsted called the prohibition of restaurants and stores in the Niagara Falls park, "a cardinal necessity (for) success (of his park plan)"-- actually writing "If (the park) were a commercial undertaking into which the State was entering, in competition with the people of the village of Niagara, it cannot be questioned that the restaurant could be made profitable"- restaurants and stores sprung up everywhere inside the park.

The park even competes with city businesses for banquets.

Olmsted’s original plans also did not plan to set aside land for parking, "because at best many trees must be destroyed."

Olmsted envisioned that those who came to the park would park outside and walk inside the all-green park and patronize local businesses for their commercial needs.

Albany, seeing the business potential of the park, clear-cut acres of trees for parking. Presently they have three paid lots and will spend $2.5 million more to create more revenue from parking.

The annual parking business for the state park, at $10 per car, is around $2 million per year, making their parking business one of the most successful in the region.

As part of the plan to redesign the park in Albany's image, moving away from Olmsted to a business enterprise in competition with the city, the park added statues and man-made gardens to complete the departure of all four of Olmsted’s original four cardinal points.

It is interesting that the only money Cuomo found for the Niagara Falls State park was to increase parking and make better offices for the people who run the business.

Funny too, when Cuomo announced the glad tidings of his $90 million plan, he said the money spent will "support New York’s tourism industry.”

What he really meant, in Niagara Falls at least, is that it will  support Albany's tourism industry.

So what else is new?



Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr. www.niagarafallsreporter.com

May 21, 2013