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The Friends of Fort Niagara State Park, a citizens group based in Youngstown, has filed legal action against the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and the local contractor to prevent the development of Fort Niagara State Park.

The Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation completed the environmental-impact statement and intends to proceed with the 40-year lease.

Fort Niagara State Park is a small, 288-acre park at the confluence of the Niagara River and Lake Ontario. It is heavily used for youth recreation, picnics, by boaters, walkers and the like. It is renowned among birders for its resident and migratory bird population.

The state parks office has recently concerned itself with the idea that parks should be making money and, therefore, has been leasing portions of state parks to private developers to generate revenues for the park system. This policy creates a conflict with park users, since only a select few profit.

It is time to put a stop to this practice, and Friends of Fort Niagara State Park is proceeding in this manner.

Old Fort Niagara, unique nationally and located within the park, was restored by the efforts of interested citizens. The restoration was begun in 1927 by 20 patriotic, civic and fraternal societies that organized the Old Fort Niagara Association. It is still a nonprofit membership corporation with limited state support.

Incidentally, the federal government in 1840 took over the 288 acres for a military installation. It was returned to the state in 1946.

The 1954 New York Red Book states: "The Niagara Frontier State Parks Commission recently acquired by reversion from the federal government the site of Fort Niagara, at the mouth of the Niagara River. Plans are now complete for the development of the area as one of the outstanding state parks in the region as soon as military installations are abandoned."

Let's not destroy the few parks we have by making them commercial through privatization, in this particular case, upscale restaurants, inns and the like. I am certain that's not what our forefathers had in mind when they set aside this land for a public park.

If hotels, motels, bed & breakfasts and restaurants in Niagara Falls are not near to being filled to capacity, why are we adding to their demise by creating more competition in outlying areas? What is worse, we are destroying the ambience of an area that was set aside for the use and enjoyment of all the public, and not just a select few. If all the buildings must be saved, put them to a use that will benefit the entire public.

Let's not contribute to urban sprawl where one area is indistinguishable from another. Let's not regress in the strides we have made for human rights. This privatization issue may appear to be insignificant, but the outcome will have lasting consequences throughout the state.



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