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Park lovers benefit from Kregal's vision

A few days ago, I spent several hours with Jesse Kregal. It was an honor I had looked forward to for several years because, although I had heard much about him, I had never met Jesse.

Music-lovers will recognize him as a tympanist who retired from the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra in 2009, but I knew about him for quite different reasons. I knew Jesse as a leading member of a very small fraternity: those who have made major contributions to Buffalo's parks.

I met Jesse on a bright summer morning along the 2.4 mile Scajaquada Creek path that is now designated in his honor the Jesse Kregal Pathway. We began our walk along Nottingham Terrace a quarter mile west of the trail beginning in Delaware Park and walked west to the Niagara River.

As we strolled along the quiet pathway, Jesse told me how that trail came to be constructed. He conceived the idea in 1982, he said, when he was driving along the Scajaquada Expressway. Jesse is originally from Portland, Ore., which has pathways similar to what he had in mind. He also is a runner and thought it would be great to extend the jogging track around Delaware Park west to the Niagara River.

Still he had no concept of the magnitude of the project he was considering. Just as well, he told me, or he might not have taken it on.

Jesse took his proposal to the Buffalo State College Urban Planning staff who, under Michelle Stieglitz's leadership, gave him strong initial and continuing support. And this led to an early fortunate convergence of interests. Bill Hoyt and Rich Tobe were able to include $800,000 in a state highway bill to begin construction of a path section and the project was under way.

With that activity still in planning stages, Jesse was asked to present his ideas to a public hearing. Expecting to talk to a few interested people, he was surprised to find an overflowing lecture hall.

Fortunately, a group including architect Ted Lownie had developed a presentation of its full path concept and community interest and support for the project was evident. A Scajaquada Pathway working group was initiated.

Other grants followed: a Department of Transportation grant for $107,000, $750,000 from the City of Buffalo and more recently $1.2 million from the New York Power Authority. Equally important were substantial gifts from local individuals and firms.

Anyone who knows how institutions operate and politicians work will understand that those attractive dollar amounts required very close supervision or they would be diverted to unrelated purposes. However, Jesse stressed that the honest and straightforward negotiations of the working group generated good will from those with whom they dealt. In fact, in some cases contractors went beyond the obligations of their agreements. One told Jesse that he appreciated working for his group because the members represented a "breath of fresh air" in a tough business.

I learned all of this as we walked along this wonderful trail. I urge every member of this community to do so this fall. Yes, the creek is polluted and in a few places refuse mars the outlook, but this is a remarkable contribution to our city and you will be very pleasantly surprised.

As one commentator noted, "This trail represents the rare situation where the execution seems even better than the concept." Thank you, Jesse Kregal.