Outdoor Recreation RFP found lacking

Pushes new Infrastructure at the expense of Local Economy, Natural Beauty

Gov. Cuomo using the Outdoor Recreation RFP                   to promote his “leadership.”

We took a closer look at USA Niagara’s “Outdoor Recreation and Programming & Associated Real Estate Development” RFP that fleshes out Gov. Cuomo’s vision for introducing different tourist activities such as rock climbing, ziplining and horseback riding to the Niagara Gorge and Niagara Falls State Park, and found the document to be fairly typical when it comes to shaping the narrative regarding the state’s management of the tourism industry here, not to mention being rife with inaccuracies, misstatements and embellishments.

In addition, significant portions of the RFP are not about Niagara Falls tourism, they’re about serving as campaign ads for Gov. Cuomo, including frequent mention of the $70 million he has spent “improving” Niagara Falls State Park with expanded parking lots, food service and acres of granite pavers, the procurement of which may be the future focus of a bid-rigging investigation. The $70 million is highlighted no fewer than three times in the RFP, headlining one page and as a subheadline for another.

Niagara Falls State Park “Landscape Improvements” which, with expanded parking lots and food service, pave Olmsted’s park from one end to the other. How natural.

When addressing the crowd at the Hotel Niagara gathering last month, Mr. Cuomo touted not $70, but $75 million worth of spending on his park and highway.

What’s $5 million here or there, especially when it’s taxpayer money?

Of course, $20 of that $70, or $75 million, whichever it is, was used to upgrade the south Scenic Moses Parkway. For simplicity’s sake, the governor and his state publicity apparatus routinely lump the two together, and they may as well, since the road serves as a driveway into Niagara Falls State Park, bypassing downtown and blocking off waterfront.

The cover photo for the June 30 document is credited to the “Niagara Tourism & Convention Corporation,” even though the NTCC changed its name to Destination Niagara USA back in March.

Over the years this newspaper has killed hundreds of trees and utilized oceans of ink bringing criticism of the NTCC to you, as well as the Robert Moses Parkway. What better way to put numerous unflattering news stories on the world wide web behind you than changing your name to “Destination Niagara USA” or “Niagara Scenic Parkway,” respectively.

The plan, which was posted last week at NiagaraFallsReporter.com, describes all the new infrastructure in the park and gorge that has the construction companies who contribute heavily to the governor’s campaigns salivating.

“Establishment of various scales of ‘outfitting’ facilities… where in addition to restrooms, hikers or birders might rent gear, purchase food for a picnic, obtain guidebooks, engage with experts, etc.

“Installation of equipment to facilitate hiking by unfamiliar visitors, such as wildlife “blinds” with interpretative panels (and) trail marking with distances, etc.

“pre-positioned ‘yurts’ or other types of modular cabins designed to fit in the landscape.

“Strategically establishing/locating winter warming huts/areas… to create “places” along the trails as gathering spots or food/beverage areas.

“a lodge or heritage inn as part of… (n)ew construction on the 1.3-acre surface parking lot at Whirlpool State Park…'”

And so on.

USA Niagara and State Parks want a “sensitively-design ‘natural’ water element (i.e., that could provide summer respite and potentially a location for ice skating in the winter months)” built on the south end of Goat Island.

Speaking of lodges, the two lodges put forth as examples of the rustic “parkitecture” effect that USA Niagara, State Parks and NYPA are desirous of, are the Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone and the Glacier Park Lodge in Montana. Both are owned and operated by Xanterra Parks & Resorts, which was invited to go on the “Formal Niagara Gorge Site Tour” last week, although they didn’t attend. Maybe they skipped it because they have it in the bag?

While the Niagara Gorge is an official Audubon Society Globally Significant Important Bird Area, birdwatching (or “birding,” if you will) gets precious little attention in the Outdoor Recreation RFP, even though every year 46.7 million Americans enjoy watching and feeding birds, $107 billion is spent on birdwatching equipment and travel in the U.S., 666,000 jobs are created and $13 billion in local, state, and federal tax revenue is generated from birdwatching, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

A brief mention of bird watching on page 4, “birders” who “might rent gear” on page 6, and once again on page 18 in a list with fishing and picnicking. A short description of the “waterfowl observation area” on the south Scenic Moses Parkway, also on 18, and “gull and waterfowl concentration” at Devil’s Hole on 31, but that’s all there is to say about the multibillion dollar bird business.

The RFP contains outright misstatements such as “Olmsted… collaborated on a master plan and design for the park at Niagara that focused on… restoring its landscape, and enhancing it with scenic roads.” Actually, he forbade vehicular traffic in Niagara Falls State Park.

“(The Robert Moses Parkway) was successful in assembling and preserving a continuous band of open space along the Upper and Lower River.” In reality, the Parkway decimated available open space.

“(The south Robert Moses Parkway upgrade) emulates the Frederick Law Olmsted-designed road that once existed there.” Olmsted designed Niagara Falls State Park, Buffalo’s Delaware Park and New York’s Central Park. He didn’t design roads.

The new traffic roundabout on the Niagara River as presented in the RFP – something bidders for the Outdoor Recreation proposal could care lessabout.

“(T)he Schoelkopf (sic) Station was part of Nikola Tesla’s first use of alternating current technology.” It wasn’t. Tesla’s fantastic accomplishment, the first commercially-viable hydroelectric generating facility in history, was located on Buffalo Avenue. The Schoellkopf plant was related to what was known as the Adams plant as much as the NYPA Niagara Power Project at Lewiston, NY is.

The State Environmental Quality Review Act, which provides a process for identification and vetting of environmental impacts though public participation, is briefly cited once, on page 51, despite the fact that the Outdoor Recreation project undoubtedly encompasses massive environmental impacts. That’s par for the course with the Cuomo administration, however, since the Niagara Falls State Park Landscape Improvements plan, the new State Parks Police barracks on the Niagara Gorge, and James Glynn’s new Maid of the Mist winter quarters in the gorge were all exempted from SEQRA by Gov. Cuomo.

Strangely, there is no mention in the RFP of the new, $1 million a year government-subsidized, “free” Discover Niagara shuttle, possibly because ridership is virtually non-existent and its future uncertain.

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