By Peter Simon
Next time you use the Ellicott Creek Bike Path in Amherst, think of Judy Chick. Without her persistence it wouldn’t exist.
There are no plaques noting Chick’s central role in the creation of the scenic, highly popular path that winds 5.2 miles from North Forest Road to Ellicott Creek Park. In fact, recreation was not what sparked Chick’s civic activism.
Like hundreds of other residents of Amherst, Chick, who died Sunday, suffered heavy damage to her home from Ellicott Creek flooding in 1985. As soon as the floodwaters subsided, more than 500 people – driven by anger and a sense of betrayal – formed a group called Concerned Citizens for Ellicott Creek Flood Control. The more citizens learned, the angrier they became.
Their neighborhoods were developed with the understanding that a multimillion-dollar flood control project would contain high waters in a series of diversion channels and put an end to persistent street and house flooding.
Instead, the remedial plan drew dust in a drawer at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers due to lack of congressional funding.
With the emphasis on flood control, few took notice of the proposed bike path, designed to satisfy a federal requirement that public works projects include recreational facilities.
The group’s message to elected officials – including Rep. Jack Kemp, then a presidential hopeful – was simple and direct: Get the project built quickly and we’ll sing your praises. Fail again and we’ll do everything possible to run you from office.
Bold statements come easily when anger runs high, but riled up citizen groups often lose their direction, their determination and their sting. Elected officials expect that and count on it.
That never happened in this case because Chick refused to ease up. Formally, she was vice president for public relations. In fact, she was the group’s heart and soul.
She spoke almost daily to representatives of all five members of the local congressional delegation, insisting that they stay on top of every detail and possible glitch.
Chick and I talked in great detail about strategy, but she seldom came close to following our plans because her uncanny, on-the-spot political instincts were far more effective.
A Buffalo News Washington columnist called Chick the citizen activist of the year, saying she played a pivotal role on the vote to fund the flood control project and the adjacent path.
It’s a beautiful place for her memory to live on.
Peter Simon is a retired Buffalo News reporter and was president of the flood control group.