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Enhancing panorama of river park At Joseph Davis, 'housecleaning' proceeds to ensure waterfront visual that's 'priceless'

Joseph Davis State Park features 1,200 feet of public access to the Niagara River, but for years, those looking to get a glimpse of the water, or go fishing, had to push their way through thick brush.

Including poison ivy.

"The first thing we've done is clean it up," Supervisor Steven L. Reiter said. "But there still is a lot of housecleaning to be done."

The town, flush with Niagara River Greenway money, stepped into the park's future last year, when Joseph Davis State Park was put on a closure list as the state grappled with a $10 billion budget deficit.

Town officials offered to maintain the park as part of a 10-year lease, with a 10-year renewal option, and took the keys May 5.

There has been a lot to do ever since. They've attacked weeds, graffiti and the limited access in several parts of the 357-acre park.

When they opened one of the buildings on the site, a chicken ran out.

"The waterfront visual is priceless," said Neil E. Nolf, chairman of the town's newly formed Joseph Davis State Park Local Development Corp., an intermediary volunteer board that will oversee the park and report to the town.

"We are providing a source of relief," Nolf said of the town's decision to run the park. "We are going to take the park in a direction that it can be utilized by our community."

The local development corporation includes volunteers with various backgrounds. Nolf is a former spokesman for the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station. William D. Hilts -- the county's sport fishing coordinator, who has already proposed a fishing-related project for the riverside park -- is another member. Contractors, local developers, community leaders and engineers also are in the mix.

"We can roll up our sleeves and do this," Reiter said. "The state had an opportunity to develop this park, but they either never had the will financially or the will outright to do it.

"Lewiston is in a good position because we have financial resources from our financial agreements with the Power Authority, and we have the will to develop this park so it will be self-sustaining. That's our goal."

Lewiston, home to the Power Authority's Niagara Power Project, will receive $510,000 a year over the next half-century for parks and recreation improvements as part of the 2007 relicensing of the power plant. The relicensing agreement spurred the creation of the Niagara River Greenway Commission, which helps guide Lewiston and other localities along the Niagara River as they develop and connect their locales.

Unlike the Town of Hamburg, which took over maintenance of Woodlawn Beach State Park from the state, Lewiston is "working from scratch," the supervisor said.

"We don't have all those assets here," Reiter said. "They had a restaurant there, they had a beach project, they had some stores, some concessions. We don't have that -- yet. If you were to say anything about the buildings at Joseph Davis, most of them are in disrepair and will have to come down. We've done [the work] on all our [town] parks first, and now we are at the point where we can do some stuff, using Greenway money, at Joseph Davis."

Nolf said the local development corporation is working with the state to develop future plans for the park.

"We've had some people question the process. Our agenda is to keep the park open, to improve the park and make it accessible for our community," Nolf said. "Our park is now open and so is our process."

Nolf and Reiter outlined a number of "concepts" for the park, such as an Audubon Nature Center, which already has received approval for $195,000 in Greenway funding, as well as ideas for more fishing opportunities. There's talk of developing a boat launch, with access from River Road, and a "Fish Culture Center" to develop and release fish, as well as new and enhanced shelters and gazebos, maybe even a campground.

"It's a wonderful sanctuary for wildlife," Nolf said.

"Our major priority [right now] is to make it a local asset, but a regional asset in the future," Reiter said.

"It will be a little economic engine," Nolf said. "There's 1,200 feet of waterfront access, and it becomes a new resource for Lewiston and the local community."

For now, the focus is on cleaning up the park, with crews cutting grass, opening up the waterfront, cleaning up shelters, pulling out old grills and improving the restrooms.

Sam and Donna DiNardo, from Niagara Falls, were enjoying those breezes on a hot summer day last week, having a picnic on the waterfront with their dog, Martini. "We have come here before, but they've done a nice job of cleaning it up," Donna DiNardo said.

"There's still an enormous amount of improvements that still have to take place," said Louis Giardino, president and CEO of CEA International, Construction, Engineers and Advisors, of Rochester, which is helping with the cleanup. "The town has attainable goals, and putting it all together is our job."