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Seaway Trail Center struggling

Hamburg's Seaway Trail Visitors Center opened on Route 5 with great fanfare in 2006.

Today, the center is struggling to find volunteers.

This summer, there were not enough volunteers to open the building to visitors -- the first time that had happened in five years.

"I'm pretty discouraged myself. I put a lot of time in there," said Richard Crandall, who has been involved with the visitors center since its inception.

He said the center, which is located in the former Wanakah Water Works building, is not getting enough support from the town.

"The town has a vested interest in it because they own the building," he said.

The Friends of the Lake Erie Seaway Trail Center was formed in 2006 to run the center. The group was to solicit, train and monitor local community volunteers, as well as work to develop the center's potential, according to its website.

Federal and state grants totaling $330,000, plus $338,000 in cash and in-kind services from the town, transformed the building on Lake Erie into the center, with a handicapped-accessible observation deck and lower walkway. Interior improvements include a Maritime Room, community room and enclosed porch.

There is a display of fish found in Lake Erie, a gift shop, an office and a rack for publications.

But finding people to staff the visitors center has been difficult. Some members said former Councilwoman Kathleen C. Hochul was instrumental in the creation of the center, and after she left town government for the County Clerk's Office and then Congress, the center lost a strong voice in Town Hall.

A meeting was conducted recently by the center board to talk about options.

Despite reaching out to the public, only a handful attended.

"We discussed what we could do or couldn't do to maintain viability," Crandall said. "It looked like it was a mountain we couldn't climb."

"We sure would like to find somebody who is willing to take over in some leadership capacity," said another member, Jack Edson.

Members discussed the possibility of disbanding the nonprofit organization formed to administer the center and turning its operation over to the town, which owns the building.

But no one wants to give up yet.

"We're always open to suggestions," Edson said. "It doesn't seem like there's a lot of interest in it."

In addition to a couple of groups that use the building for meetings, a science teacher from Frontier Middle School also brings students to the center to conduct some classes.

Crandall said the center sent its business plan to the town and is waiting for its review. He said the center needs to raise public awareness to get more people involved.