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The view alone makes the old Wanakah Water Co. building in Hamburg worth a visit, but by next summer, officials plan to offer a lot more.

Renovation is nearing completion on the building on Route 5, and outside work is scheduled in the spring. The improvements total about $500,000.

Known -- for now, at least -- as the Seaway Trail Visitors Center, it was opened for a tour Wednesday by about 30 members of Seaway Trail, the sponsoring organization for the 454-mile scenic route that parallels Lake Erie, the Niagara River, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.

The facility will introduce and direct visitors to the area's attractions and serve as an educational resource as well, according to Kathleen C. Hochul, Hamburg councilwoman.

The Maritime Room will be dedicated to fishing, shipping and recreational activities on the Great Lakes; it also will tell the story of four shipwrecks linked to the site, according to Mike Vogel, a consultant on the project.

The center will include a community room and gift shop, plus an enclosed porch offering a spectacular view of Lake Erie, including the Canadian shore and downtown Buffalo. On a clear day you can see the mist from Niagara Falls, according to Dick Crandall, an architect, consultant and former chairman of the town Planning Board.

The sunsets over the lake are as good as any in the world, perhaps because of "residue from Bethlehem Steel," Hochul said.

A front vestibule stocked with maps and brochures will be open around the clock, but volunteers are expected to staff the rest of the building on a seasonal basis.

"We're still open to ideas," she said, adding she would like to see an exhibit explaining how lake-effect snowstorms are generated.

Crandall said most of the funds came from state grants and are split roughly evenly between the outside and inside of the building, constructed in the 1940s and expanded in the 1950s.

Exterior work planned for the spring includes two stairways leading down to the beach, improvements to the seawall, parking and landscaping.

The facility was to have been completed by now but was delayed by problems with the roof and the need for more extensive repairs than first anticipated, Crandall said.


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