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Lewiston parks experiencing growing pains

LEWISTON – Local residents benefit from a wide range of free recreation at the three major state parks in the Town of Lewiston, and all three parks are in various stages of expansion or improvement – but there are some growing pains.

Although admission to the parks is free, operating them results in some local cost, and Lewiston town and village officials are struggling to support the parks without passing any undue costs along to local taxpayers.

The parks are:

• Artpark, the best-known of the three, with a variety of diverse programs that appeal to audiences and visitors from throughout the state and beyond.

• Reservoir State Park, where a $6 million improvement program was observed with a ceremonial ribbon-cutting ceremony 12 days ago.

• Joseph Davis State Park, a largely undeveloped and underused site that the town plans to improve and operate under a 20-year contract with the state.

The state built Earl W. Brydges Artpark along the Niagara River at the south edge of the village to become a performance center, hands-on multimedia workshop mainly for children, and passive area for family picnics and strolling. In recent years, Artpark suffered from underfunding in tight state budgets, and much of its operation was turned over to Artpark & Co. as a concert promoter.

The concerts and other performances have become so popular that nearby residents have complained about traffic congestion, illegal parking, noise and anti-social behavior by some visitors. Their complaints have led to increased police services to control traffic, enforce parking restrictions and prevent rowdyism.

This, in turn, has raised the question of whether the increased cost of policing should be paid by village taxpayers or by residents of the entire town. For at least another year, the cost will continue to be shared by the village and the town, as it has been in the past. Artpark is responsible for policing within the park, but local police must handle areas outside the park, including access along village streets.

Many businesses along Center Street welcome the concert crowds and their patronage. Trying to balance the interests of neighborhood residents in the village with those of concert audiences and promoters, Mayor Terry C. Collesano said the volume of the music often depends on which way the wind is blowing. “The music always seems louder downwind,” he said.

Town Supervisor Steven L. Reiter, a supporter of government consolidation and shared services, said he has talked informally with Artpark officials, urging them to make a contribution in support of the police. Artpark made a $3,600 donation in September for that purpose.

Meanwhile, Artpark also has been trying to be a good neighbor by allowing free use of its parking lots during Lewiston’s popular Peach Festival, the recent re-enactment of the Battle of Queenston Heights during the War of 1812, and other events. Improvements in the park include a redesigned, elevated amphitheater with enhanced views of the stage, new walkways, a staircase from the upper parking lot to the concert area, new concession areas and restrooms, and an enlarged bowl area in front of the stage.

Although admission to the park is free, there often is a charge for parking and an admission charge for concerts and other theater presentations. Pedestrians can walk into Artpark freely.

Reservoir State Park, operated by the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation on property owned by the New York Power Authority at Military and Saunders Settlement roads, is a different story. It has no natural water access, but it is adjacent to the man-made reservoir for the Niagara Power Project.

State and local officials presided at a rededication ceremony Oct. 23 to introduce the public to $6 million in improvements paid for by the Power Authority as part of its relicensing agreement for the Niagara Project.

The work includes:

• Redeveloped ball diamonds with a special clay to provide a safer surface and better drainage for the infields.

• New infield lighting that makes night games possible.

• Regraded and seeded soccer fields.

• New basketball, street hockey and tennis courts.

• A new, lighted ice-skating rink.

• New, safer playground equipment, now accessible to children with special needs.

• A new winter warming pavilion at the sledding hill in the reservoir dike area.

• A walking path that is accessible to people with disabilities.

• An improved model airplane landing field.

• A repaved path to the top of the reservoir dike.

• New shrubs, trees and meadow plantings.

Reiter said the park “provides a wonderful complement to the town’s own recreational facilities. … Residents can benefit from [it] for improved quality of life.” He said later, however, that some of the landscaping appeared to be unfinished and unattractive.

Town of Niagara Supervisor Steven C. Richards said the park would help to “form a recreation hub of which any community would be envious.” Part of Reservoir State Park lies across the town line between Lewiston and the Town of Niagara.

The Rev. Joseph L. Levesque, president of Niagara University, said the park, “just a short walk from campus, presents new and exciting possibilities to link the park to the campus through walking and biking trails promoting fitness and reflection.”

The third park, Joseph Davis, is off Lower River Road near the Lewiston-Porter town line with frontage along the Niagara River. This 388-acre park has remained largely undeveloped because of the lack of state financing, but the Town of Lewiston recently reached an agreement to take over its operation and maintenance for the next 20 years.

Consulting engineers are drawing up plans for a boat-launch site there, including an entrance road leading to a parking area for cars and boat trailers, and a launch ramp leading into the river with an access pier and dock next to it.

Town work crews are thinning out shrubs and plants that have overgrown the shoreline, and are removing invasive trees that are not native to this area.

The Buffalo Audubon Society announced last month that it is undertaking a habitat-restoration project for both migratory and resident birds at Joseph Davis State Park, supported by more than $350,000 in grants from federal programs and national funders.

The Audubon project is intended to provide “habitats for the breeding, shelter, migration and sustenance of wild bird populations” and to control “invasive species.” The society said the Town of Lewiston is “generously helping” in the project.

Reiter said, “The Town of Lewiston is committed to developing Joseph Davis State Park as a destination for visitors from around the globe. We are excited to be doing this work to improve habitats at the park.

“As more and more birders and nature lovers learn about the natural riches of the park, they will help make it a world-class destination for bird-watching and the enjoyment of the habitats and ecosystems found in our region.”