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Free Discover Niagara trolley to start May 26

LEWISTON – There are some new tools to help tourists navigate Niagara County beyond Niagara Falls – the Discover Niagara shuttle and Discover Niagara app. Both are designed to easily guide tourists to 14 destinations along the 14-mile lower Niagara River corridor from the “Falls to the Fort.”

The new hop-on, hop-off trolley, which will debut to the public Thursday, was unveiled during a preview event Friday at the Niagara Power Vista.

The complimentary shuttle connects to the free Discover Niagara app, and Wi-Fi on the shuttle provides a way to get tickets to attractions, preview what is offered and even get a little history about the area along the route – from downtown Niagara Falls and the New York State Parks to Niagara University, Niagara Power Project Power Vista, Lewiston, Youngstown and Old Fort Niagara.

The Discover Niagara app also provides information in advance for those who are planning a visit or it can be used as a tool for residents and businesses to help encourage visitors to extend their stay.

Each stop along the route is marked clearly with a blue and white sign. Tickets can be downloaded at www.discoverniagara.org or can be picked up at various stops, including the Niagara USA Official Visitor Center, Aquarium of Niagara, Niagara Arts and Cultural Center, Castellani Art Museum at Niagara University, the Power Vista, Lewiston Welcome Center, Old Fort Niagara and area hotels. A full list of sites and mobile tracking area available on the site as well.

Robert Emerson, executive director of Old Fort Niagara, said with the fort mentioned in the slogan on the shuttle, “Falls to the Fort,” more people are likely to be curious and take the shuttle ride to the terminus in Youngstown.

“It’s a stress-free way to get back and forth and you can enjoy the scenery. And maybe people will linger a little longer,” Emerson said.

Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster said the development dispels an old belief, that any tourism dollars spent outside Niagara Falls is a loss to the city.

“But that’s not the case. We work best when we work together as a region,” said the mayor.

The idea started with the New York Power Authority, which last year upgraded the Power Vista, the visitor center at the Niagara Power Project, and had proposed a shuttle between the Power Vista and Niagara Falls State Park.

The federally designated Niagara Falls Heritage Area suggested enlarging the idea to cover the entire lower Niagara River corridor in communities along and around the Niagara Gorge.

Sara Capen, executive director of the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area, spearheaded the project and worked with stakeholders to evaluate the costs to make the project happen.

Getting a shuttle for the area has taken more than a decade.

Assemblyman John Ceretto, D-Lewiston, pumped his fist in the air Friday and said, “We did it.” He and others credited Capen’s energy for finally making it happen. Ceretto added, “We were missing one thing a long time ago and that was Sara Capen.”

The two-year pilot is expected to cost $820,000 annually, with nearly half of the funding provided by the Power Authority. Funding also was contributed by New York State Parks, USA Niagara Development, Niagara Tourism and Convention Corp., Ceretto and the Niagara Falls Heritage Area.

Passengers will be able to ride the shuttle for free this season, but tickets will be used to track and test the use of the shuttle.

The service will offer two trolleys and two smaller buses, which will operate from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily through Oct. 19. These four vehicles are expected to run continuously along the 14-mile route and arrive every 35 minutes at each site to pick up and drop off riders. The service is offered in collaboration with the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority’s service and connects at Old Main Street.

Capen and others said they would like to see the shuttle expanded to other tourist sites in Niagara County, including Lockport and North Tonawanda.

Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, said Buffalo Niagara is the talk of the nation, noting that people are finally being reconnected to the greatest waterfront in the world.

“We fell on some tough times,” Higgins said, “but the last 10 years have been incredible and in the next 36 months in Niagara Falls and in the Buffalo-Niagara region you are going to see dramatic changes, which will change this region for the better for the next 100 years.”

email: nfischer@buffnews.com