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TOWN DEMANDS A NEW PLAN TO IMPROVE STATE PARK

Still stung by the state's rejection of a golf course for Joseph Davis State Park, the town Thursday demanded a commitment from state parks officials to come up with a better plan for the seedy 360-acre park.

"The state promised us a golf course, the people wanted it, but it never happened," Town Councilman John D. Ceretto told state parks official Thomas B. Lyons. "We don't want to see the state walk out on us again. We want a commitment."

State Parks Commissioner Bernadette Castro disallowed the proposal for an 18-hole golf course last spring after protests by environmentalists who want to keep the park as a refuge for birds and other wildlife.

People in favor of the $5.6 million golf course, which would occupy 220 acres, said the course would be a real money-maker for the area by bringing in restaurants, hotels, shops and gas stations.

The Lewiston Town Board, which has been pushing for the golf course since 1995, said it has spent $100,000 on feasibility and other studies. The controversy took an angry turn earlier this year when the Town Board sued the state under the Code for Civil Proceedings.

"I'm old enough to have known Joe Davis -- the man, not the park," said Merton S. Marshall, a member of the Town Board's Joseph Davis State Park Task Force Committee. "My wife knew him, too, and when we drove through the park the other day, I asked her what he'd think of all the controversy. 'He'd want his name taken off the park,' she said."

In the meantime, Lyons, director of the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation's Environmental Management Bureau, is taking the heat.

"I suspect a disappointment in the town," Lyons told a meeting of the task force committee. "The park has a certain potential, and that potential hasn't been reached yet. We will continue to roll up our sleeves and work out a solution."

Farmer Paul Bencal, a member of the task force, likened New York to a state fair full of family attractions.

"We're the last concession at the fair," Bencal said. "If we don't offer something significant for the parents and kids, we lose them."

"If there's not going to be a golf course, then we need something else to attract tourists," agreed William Angus.

Ideas being considered for the 140 acres outside the disputed golf course area include waterfront boardwalks and boat docks, fishing ponds, botanical gardens and an aviary.

Birders and other naturalists eschew the notion of an aviary, pointing out that the state park lies in the Niagara River Corridor "Important Bird Area" -- so designated by the Audubon Society and the Canadian Nature Federation in 1996. The area is already one huge natural bird habitat, they say.

"The people of Lewiston said they wanted a golf course," committee Chairman Richard S. Portale told Lyons, "but if you come back with another plan, say an aviary, we'll take it to the public."

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