LEWISTON -- A scenic pathway, similar to the one along the Niagara Parkway in Ontario, soon will stretch 17 miles along the U.S. side of the Niagara River and inland, from the Niagara Reservation to Old Fort Niagara.
The Village of Lewiston already has a network of about seven miles of paved pedestrian trails that circle the village and connect to some of the parks in the Town of Lewiston, from Joseph Davis State Park on the Town of Porter border to Pletcher Road Park and Kiwanis Park. Paths also run along the scenic Lower River Road, where they continue north to link up with state trails in Youngstown to Old Fort Niagara.
About $1.4 million has been obtained to link the Lewiston trails to the area surrounding Niagara University and to the land created with the recent closing of the southbound Robert Moses Parkway. State lawmakers have even bigger dreams -- a "Niagara River Corridor" with trails from Lake Erie to Lake Ontario.
Specifically noting the Lower River Road trail to Fort Niagara, State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-North Tonawanda, said $7.5 million has been spent on trails since 1999.
"This new trail (from Lewiston to Niagara Falls) is absolutely going to happen," he said. "Money has been allocated. . . . We may have the best trails system in the State of New York. Fifty percent of the trails are in place now to link the Peace Bridge to Old Fort Niagara."
Donald J. Smith, the project manager and a professional engineer with Olson and Terzian of Buffalo, said the project has received three grants: $200,000 from the state Department of Transportation's multi-modal transportation fund, $200,000 from the State Power Authority and a $327,000 from state Office of Parks Recreation and Historical Preservation. The Town of Lewiston will match the grants by providing manpower and equipment.
"The twist on this is that last winter, when we made application for these grants, we thought it was pretty ambitious to apply for the entire project of $1.4 million," Smith said. "All the grant programs had limits. So we created a phase one application that would have done the northern and southern ends of the work. It would have been a nice start. But, we got approval for all three and need to be sure that all agencies allow us to apply all the money to the entire project."
While Olson Terzian handled the conceptual design and grant applications, the ideas came from Lewiston Highway Superintendent Steven L. Reiter, an advocate for bike trails for many years. His crews will do the work on the 10-foot wide, five-mile long trail.
Smith called it a "small road project" and said it would take about a year to complete. Work is expected to begin in late winter or early spring.
"Lewiston is much further ahead in pedestrian trails than any other community in Western New York," Smith said.
In fact, Lewiston's Tourist Information Center offers maps of the Lewiston Bike Trail and this summer began offering free bicycles, courtesy of the Lewiston Kiwanis, sponsors of the Peach Festival.
"The state wanted to plan trails (for linking Lewiston and Niagara Falls), but it wouldn't have happened for 10 years," Councilman John D. Ceretto said. "They wanted to study it and see how the closing of the Robert Moses Parkway in Niagara Falls went. Steve told them we already had our own plans and could do it for the cost of the study. It took some convincing."
Plans for the new path are not dependent on closing the parkway, officials said.
In the Village of Lewiston, the trail will go in two directions around the village, either hooking up at the intersection of Mohawk and Center streets and then on to Academy Park and Artpark, or continue across the Robert Moses Parkway.
At Artpark, town highway crews already have been working on beautifying the upper terrace in the park or spoils area, transforming it from scrub land to a park with ponds, grasslands and wildlife. This new park offers a scenic view of the village and according to Reiter, "makes Artpark more visitor friendly." Artpark already has walking paths along the gorge.
The new path will continue behind the Tops Supermarket and the Portage Road Artpark entrance with a pedestrian bridge that crosses the Robert Moses Parkway and follows the parkway as it meanders along the gorge, passing in front of Niagara University and the Power Authority's Power Vista.
Ceretto said Lewiston has been working on scenic pathways for more than six years.
"The town doesn't have sidewalks. This is not just ecotourism, but a safety factor for children by connecting the parks. Next we will open up links to the neighborhoods. It's not just a place to look at the view," Ceretto said.
A hole in the fence next to the path at Kiwanis Park shows that some already are making efforts to link to the path, a connection that Reiter said soon will open officially.
Reiter said he made an effort to preserve old trees in the northern end of the trail, which winds through woods parallel with the Robert Moses Parkway.
"I wanted a natural corridor with nice vistas and handicap accessibility that connects all the parks and subdivisions," he said. "I designed this by riding on the front of a bulldozer, spraying a path and then clearing behind it."
Reiter said they are also trying to make the paths safe with signs that clearly state to be safe and walk with a friend. Phones and plexiglass shelters are expected to be added later.
Samuel M. Ferraro, Niagara County commissioner of planning, development and tourism, said they do whatever they can to help local communities have a regional approach to recreational trails for biking and hiking and encourage links to bordering communities in a unified approach.
Edward J. Rutkowski, deputy state commissioner of parks and recreation, said the new trail would provide a nice path for those who want to go through Niagara Reservation to view the falls up close and experience nature.