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State giving Lewiston 20-year lease to allow for renovation of park

Rehabilitation of the decayed and little-used Joseph Davis State Park has moved a step closer.

Town Supervisor Steven L. Reiter said Monday that state officials have agreed to give the town a 20-year lease that will permit Lewiston to rehabilitate the park with money from the New York Power Authority's Greenway Fund.

"This is very good news," Reiter told members of the Town Board. "We've made great progress."

An official announcement is expected later, but Reiter said state officials have assured him that a 20-year lease will permit the town to proceed with its plan to turn the largely undeveloped park at the Lewiston-Porter town line into a gem of a recreation and conservation area.

The proposed lease is subject to negotiation at several levels, and Reiter said it probably wouldn't take effect until at least next year. In the meantime, however, the town can continue its present practice of trimming the wild grass, cleaning up debris and maintaining access to the 388-acre park.

The Town Board and its subsidiary, Joseph Davis State Park Local Development Corp., envision the creation of sites for family outings, picnics, camping, playgrounds, maybe a swimming pool, better boating and fishing facilities, a visitors center and other amenities.

Town employees have been keeping an eye on the park under a 10-year lease from the state that does not permit any capital reconstruction or improvements. A major sticking point is the deteriorated parking lot that state officials wanted to bulldoze away and that Town Board members were reluctant to repair with local taxpayers' money.

Under a 20-year lease, however, the town could justify using some of its Greenway money to make the lot suitable for use.

Reiter praised Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo; the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation; State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane; Assemblyman John D. Ceretto, R-Lewiston; and the Town Board for working together to get plans for the park off dead-center.

State and local officials have been talking around the project for more than a year, but progress has been so slow that Reiter recently called it "glacial." He said Monday that "maybe the glacier has speeded up a little bit."

The park is along Lower River Road, with 1,200 feet of shoreline access to the Niagara River. Some of the park is under water in the river.

The state Office of Parks said Joseph Davis was established in 1963, but only 19 acres have been developed, 66 acres are "managed," and the remaining property is "natural." The park fell into disrepair because of the state budget crisis.

Among suggestions for its revitalization is the creation of a Native American Museum there. Local historian and retired teacher Paul Gromosiak said an Ancient Seneca Village on the western third of the park could focus on native agriculture, language, music, religion, mythology, conflict, hunting, construction, clothing, clans, fishing, festivals and other activities.