West River Parkway on Grand Island will close to vehicle traffic at the end of summer because the state is proceeding with plans to convert it into an eight-mile pedestrian and bicycle trail, a New York State parks spokesperson said.
The West River Connector Trail project, which had languished for several years as the Grand Island Town Board and residents debated various options, is moving forward, according to Mark W. Thomas, the director of the western district for New York State Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation.
The plan announced late last year by the state calls for closing the parkway between Long Road and Oakfield Road and using it as a trail.
"The only people who are not in favor are four or five people who will say whatever they can to stop it because they have had access to that water exclusively for such a long time that they can't imagine it changing. I would say 98 percent of the island is for it," Grand Island Supervisor Nathan McMurray said this week.
McMurray said was pleased to see closure of the road and construction of the new trail happening this year.
But opposition to the plan remains, especially from residents who live on West River Road. A homeowners group has been trying to raise money to hire an attorney to stop the state from removing the parkway.
In July more than 200 residents debated the issue and the four options proposed by the state, included an option to keep the parkway open to vehicles. In August the Grand Island Town Board voted 3 to 2, urging New York State to reject a plan that would close the parkway, with McMurray and Councilor Beverly Kinney supporting the state's plan to close the parkway. A second vote by the Town Board in August supported option 4, which would leave the parkway open and build a new trail along the side of West River Service Road.
However, Thomas made it clear in November that state parks officials had decided closing the road would be the best of the four options.
He said closing the parkway is a better option because it provides a wider surface - 24 feet - for the trail, is less environmentally disruptive and can be built within the $2.5 million budget. The state estimated that keeping the parkway open for vehicles and building a new 10-foot trail alongside West River Road would cost an extra $800,000.
Three scenic overlooks of the Niagara River will also be enhanced as part of the project and some vegetation may be removed to open up views of the water for trail users and residents of West River Road, Thomas said.
McMurray, who advocated for closing the parkway, posted a YouTube video in June, which garnered over 1,300 views, to convince residents that the West River Parkway, a seasonal road which is not maintained in the winter months, as well as the parallel West River Road, were not being used by many cars. He said they are two of the least-used roads on Grand Island and noted that the alternative was to pave a road that nobody uses.
"We showed (in the video) that there is not one car on this road," said McMurray.
Councilman Michael H. Madigan led opposition to closing the parkway. He said at the time that he had concerns about parkway traffic being diverted onto West River Road and other residential streets.
The West River Connector Trail will run along the western shoreline of Grand Island, along the Niagara River, connecting Beaver Island State Park, Buckhorn State Park and Big Six Mile Creek Marina. It is designed to connect these parks in Grand Island to the entire Niagara River Greenway Trail System - serving as a key link around the island and further providing uninterrupted public access to 60 miles of the Niagara Greenway.
Most of the $2.4 million for the project comes from a federal transportation grant.
The trail is expected to be granted $900,000 in Niagara River Greenway Commission funds when the standing committee meets at 1 p.m. Feb. 10 at DeVeaux Woods State Park. The meeting is open to the public.