Western New York is littered with wasted resources, but few are more regrettable than the squandered potential of Joseph Davis State Park, 388 acres of green along the lower Niagara River. It is prime land, poorly developed and largely unused.
That sad state of affairs may soon change and, happily enough, for the better. State officials have agreed to give the Town of Lewiston a 20-year lease, allowing it to rehabilitate this sinfully underused park with money from the New York Power Authority's Greenway Fund. This is a perfect merging of resource and need; indeed, it is one of the best uses of the Greenway Fund thus far.
The fund is an outgrowth of the 2007 relicensing of the Niagara Power Project. It was meant to be used to reclaim sections of the Niagara River corridor for public recreational use, though it has frequently been directed toward projects with only a glancing connection to that standard. This proposed use is clearly and directly on target.
The park is on Lower River Road and includes 1,200 feet of shoreline access to the Niagara River. Only 19 of the park's 388 acres have been developed. Sixty-six acres are "managed" and the remainder is "natural." The park, which never met the potential for its location, fell into actual disrepair because of the state budget crisis.
That crisis has not fully lifted. Although there are signs of an improving economy, Albany is hardly flush. That's what makes this such a useful arrangement. By providing access to the Greenway Fund, the state is able to offload a cost that it cannot immediately justify and the town has a golden opportunity to repair and develop a poorly used resource.
On that score, several suggestions are already pending. Among the ideas is to create a Native American museum that could focus on native agriculture, language, music, religion, mythology, conflict, hunting, construction, clothing, clans, fishing, festivals and other activities.
Other ideas include sites for family outings, picnics, camping, playgrounds, a swimming pool, better boating and fishing facilities, a visitors center and other amenities. Also necessary, and likely, are repairs to a badly deteriorated parking lot.
The deal is not yet done. An official announcement is expected to come, but the proposed 20-year lease is subject to negotiation at several levels. Lewiston Supervisor Steven L. Reiter said the agreement probably won't be concluded until next year, but that, in the meantime, the town will be able to continue trimming the wild grass, removing debris and maintaining access to the park.
This is a hopeful and creative plan to rescue a park that needs to be put to better use. State officials, including Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and the local legislative delegation as well as town leaders, deserve credit for this smart move to put the park into appropriate service.