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Complete the vision for Niagara River

The Niagara River corridor is of unique ecological, cultural and economic importance to Western New York, connecting Lake Erie and Lake Ontario communities and ecologies.

This corridor has played an important role in the history of the Niagara Frontier and it can and should continue to define the Western New York experience into the 21st century. Niagara Falls, a National Natural Landmark under state stewardship for more than a century, draws more than 14 million visitors from throughout the world to the region each year.

For more than a century, there have been those who have expressed a vision for the Niagara River corridor of a necklace of open space and conservation areas spread along the river. With many areas no longer being used for heavy industry, it is now time to complete that vision. Many areas have established parks along the corridor, including 11 state parks and 14 local parks. New York State's only National Scenic Byway, the Seaway Trail, runs through the entire corridor.

"Niagara River Greenway" or "greenway" is defined as a linear system of state and local parks and conservation areas linked by a network of multiuse trails within the greenway area established by an approved plan of the commission. The Niagara River Greenway Commission works in cooperation with municipalities, state agencies and public corporations. The commission is a cooperative regional organization established to implement a greenway based upon the mutual assent and participation of each municipality, state agency and public corporation holding lands under its jurisdiction adjacent to the Niagara River. The activities of the commission are coordinated with the local planning and cultural and park activities of each municipality adjacent to the Niagara River.

The purpose of the commission is to undertake all necessary actions to facilitate the creation of a Niagara River Greenway. The commission -- along with the aid of municipalities, stakeholder groups and the general public -- developed a plan and generic environmental impact statement for the creation of the greenway designed to enhance waterfront access, complement economic revitalization of the communities along the river and ensure the long-term maintenance of the greenway.

As a result of numerous public meetings in both western Erie and Niagara County, which includes input from 5,000 Western New Yorkers, the Niagara River Greenway Plan was developed along with the goals, principals and criteria that will guide the development of the greenway.

From the plan the Vision Statement came: "The Niagara River Greenway is a world-class corridor of places, parks and landscapes that celebrates and interprets our unique natural, cultural, recreational, scenic and heritage resources and provides access to and connections between these important resources while giving rise to economic opportunities for the region."

The plan:

*Provides specific greenway boundaries within Erie and Niagara counties.

*Developed a specific vision for the greenway that focuses on linking parks and conservation areas, creating a multiuse venue for the people of the region, and enhancing the tourism potential of the region.

*Includes an inventory of existing park and other lands under the jurisdiction of state agencies, public corporations and municipalities, which may contribute to the purposes of a greenway.

*Identified such other lands which, through acquisition, dedication or redevelopment, may contribute to the purposes of a greenway.

*Identified existing plans and plans under development that can contribute to the purposes of the greenway.

*Considered how the region's industrial heritage can be celebrated and reflected along the greenway.

*Recommended how the greenway could be linked to upland and interior communities in order to promote linkages to the river.

*Identified local, state, federal and private sources of funding that could support the purposes of the greenway.

*Identified ways for the commission to work cooperatively with municipal, state and federal agencies, public and private corporations, not-for-profit organizations, and private property owners and interests to advance and complement the purposes of the greenway.

*Recommended how portions of the greenway would be managed, including a plan for ongoing operation and maintenance that would make the greenway self-supporting.

We are now into the second year with an approved plan. To date, the commission has reviewed 47 projects, finding 44 consistent to the plan as determined by the members of the Niagara River Greenway Commission, with a total economic impact of $49,990,465 through state, federal and foundation grants leveraged with New York Power Authority relicensing monies. Now more than ever we must continue to keep our focus on the "vision" of the plan. By doing just that, we will continue to see the world class-corridor known as the Niagara River Greenway flourish.

Rob Belue is executive director of the Niagara River Greenway Commission.

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