The ongoing controversy about whether to close Grand Island’s West River Parkway to create a bike path can be seen as part of a larger conflict, one that pits longtime residents against more recent arrivals in determining the future of what has traditionally been a semi-rural bedroom community.
The lightning rod is Town Supervisor Nate McMurray, who scored an upset victory over longtime incumbent Mary S. Cooke in the November election by a margin of fewer than 15 votes. He favors the state’s bike path proposal.
McMurray is an attorney and a vice president at Delaware North, which he’s been with since 2014. Delaware North manages and provides food and beverage concessions, premium dining, entertainment, lodging, and retail at many large venues and special places. These include sports stadiums, entertainment complexes, airports, casinos and national and state parks including Niagara Falls State Park.
McMurray has made no secret of the fact that he’d like to see a program of “sensible” development on the island that would turn it into a tourist destination.
McMurray said he sees Grand Island as an “undiscovered gem,” that is too often dismissed as “pass-through territory,” and could instead be a center for tourism and development.
“It’s an island the size of Manhattan, in the middle of the Niagara River, at the edge of Niagara Falls,” McMurray said. “I think Grand Island can be a lot more.”
McMurray, 40, grew up in North Tonawanda but has spent much of his adult life in the Far East, working for companies like Samsung and Hyundai. He said he recalls Grand Island fondly from his childhood and, when he decided to return to the Niagara Frontier, chose to make his home there.
On August 1, Grand Island Town Supervisors voted 3-2 to reject the bike path plan put forward by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and the Niagara River Greenway Commission that would have closed the West River Parkway.
Congressman Brian Higgins fired off a letter to State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey, which McMurray then posted on his Facebook page. Higgins said he strongly supported turning the parkway into a bike path.
Higgins noted “great strides” made to create waterfront access for the public “centered around pedestrian, bicycle and paddle craft access and other recreational uses.”
“The decision regarding which alternative to pursue for this project will have generational significance,” Higgins said. “To persist with the extant Robert Moses-inspired, car-centric, wasteful and under-utilized infrastructure, as opposed to replacing it with this smarter, greener alternative would be a mistake not soon undone.”
McMurray has stressed that since there are two roads, virtually side by side, West River Road and West River Parkway, the Parkway is redundant, little used and will make a superior bike path along one of the most famous rivers in the world.
Critics allege that the bike path proposal is simply the first step in a grand development scheme that has thus far been hidden from the island’s 20,000 residents and will convert the island into a high trafficked tourist destination