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Grand Island envisioned as key to Niagara River parks system

A typical stretch of Grand Island waterfront, hugged by two roads - the West River Parkway and West River Road, which run side-by-side the entire eight mile length of the island. Together, they exemplify an exercise in redundancy, not to mention stupidity.

A typical stretch of Grand Island waterfront, hugged by two roads – the West River Parkway and West River Road, which run side-by-side the entire eight mile length of the island. Together, they exemplify an exercise in redundancy, not to mention stupidity.

Think just a moment, if you will, of a Niagara River waterfront park system stretching from Mutual Riverfront Park on Lake Erie in Buffalo all the way to Old Fort Niagara on Lake Ontario in Youngstown.

Spectacular, and rather like what was envisioned by the Niagara River Greenway Commission in 2004, prior to its capitulation to politics and involvement in building playgrounds, refurbishing schools and spending money on things totally unrelated to the waterfront.

Like a string of emeralds, the park system can be seen tracing its way north through Buffalo Harbor State Park, Wilkeson Point, the Buffalo and Erie County Naval and Military Park, Squire’s Landing Park in Kenmore, Niawanda Park in Tonawanda, the beautiful Gratwick Park in North Tonawanda, Beaver Island and Buckhorn state parks on Grand Island, the awe inspiring Niagara Falls State Park, Whirlpool and Devil’s Hole state parks in the city, Joseph Davis State Park in Lewiston and Fort Niagara State Park in Youngstown. The recreational opportunities along the Niagara Frontier seem limitless.

Yet something is missing. That big central stone has been forgotten.

Beaver Island and Buckhorn state parks on Grand Island – roughly the key point of the entire chain – are very nice. Beaver Island offers a beach, picnic tables with pavilions, recreation programs, a nature trail, bird watching, seasonal waterfowl hunting, fishing and ice-fishing, sledding, cross-country skiing, cross country running, snowshoeing, sledding and snowmobiling, a boat launch with marina and dockage, and a food concession. But its main attraction has been an 18-hole golf course recognized by the USGA.

Buckhorn is a nature preserve, 895 acres of marsh, meadows and woods and the last vestige of once vast marshlands and meadows that bordered the Niagara River. The public is welcome to walk the nature trails, hike, bike, kayak, canoe, fish and cross-country ski in the park. Ongoing restoration continues to re-establish wetland cover and water levels and increase the diversity of native flora and fauna. The ongoing restoration plan includes increasing public access with more non-intrusive trails, overlooks and bird watching blinds.

There are no restroom facilities available.

To say that Grand Island, the centerpiece of the Niagara River park system, is underutilized, would be an understatement.

But all that may be about to change.

Grand Island Supervisor Nate McMurray wants to close the little used West River Parkway in order to build a bike path along the Niagara River. McMurray and other supporters of the parkway removal plan envision not only a bike path, but an eight-mile stretch of waterfront access that would be perhaps the most spectacular on the Niagara Frontier.

“It’s an extension of Buffalo’s waterfront,” he said. “The good things happening in Buffalo are leaking into the suburbs.”

It would be – McMurray emphasized in an interview with the Reporter – more than – he repeats – more than a bike path but a whole new potentially world class park, which could take its place alongside the region’s other great waterfront parks.

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.

He 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.”

On his Facebook page this week, McMurray fired back at those who have alleged that his position with Delaware North is responsible for a secret agenda in wanting to create a nearly eight mile strip of waterfront access for the public to enjoy on Grand Island’s west bank.

Every spring and autumn, for the past 25 years, Grand Island’s West River Homeowners Association has gotten together on a Saturday morning and picked up litter along the length of the West River Parkway. If the parkway is converted into a bike path, there will be far less to clean up.

“It’s a lie,” McMurray wrote. “Those who insist on pushing that lie are either completely uniformed with regard to issues of business development or trying to deceive and manipulate you. I would trust them about as much as I would trust my unemployed friend who sits home all day watching James Bond movies to draft me a treatise on foreign relations. They simply are lazily uniformed, being deliberately malicious, or have an evident inclination towards wallowing in fantasy.”

He went even further.

“I will not and never have supported the development of cabins or concessions or condos along the West River Parkway,” he wrote. “Further, in response to the first round of these claims, the state parks said quite clearly that if the planned closure does occur, there will be no further development of concessions and cabins (or condos or whatever) in that space.”

McMurray said his interest in creating waterfront public access is a natural outgrowth of his interest in environmental issues.

“I’m for keeping Grand Island green,” he wrote. “That’s part of the reason I like the Parkway closure option–no more asphalt. And that’s part of the reason I ran to be Supervisor. If there is a real conflict, it sure as heck doesn’t lie with me. It’s with the the people who will say or do anything to protect their ego and keep people off their personal speedway.”

Green. Like an emerald. And Grand Island has the potential to be that large central stone in the beautiful necklace that makes up the Niagara Frontier.

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