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Editorial: State should pursue building a lodge, but not on Goat Island’s treasured land

State officials have made a smart decision in deciding to look beyond Goat Island for a “grand lodge” serving tourists in Niagara Falls. Although Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo initially proposed the upstream end of the island for the lodge, community protests and common sense prompted the administration to recalibrate.

There is disagreement about whether the state has actually dropped Goat Island as a location or is simply expanding the number of possible locations. Niagara County Legislator Dennis F. Virtuoso said Sam Hoyt, the local head of Empire State Development, told him the state will not build on Goat Island. Hoyt insists he said only that the possible number of locations has been spread to four state parks in the area, and still includes the island.

As intriguing as the idea sounded, Goat Island was the wrong place for such a lodge. Although many national parks include grand lodges within their borders, they have much more space than this small island does.

What is more, the park’s creator, Frederick Law Olmsted, envisioned Goat Island as a place of natural beauty, not development. Except for the area immediately around the falls, that approach has largely been honored. The proposed lodge would intrude on what is now peaceful contemplation of the “Parting of the Waters” above the cataracts. In addition, the area identified offers overflow parking that helps accommodate seasonal crowds and is free in the off-season.

Nevertheless, the idea of a lodge remains tempting. The Niagara Falls area offers too little for visitors and while some improvements have already occurred or are in planning stages, more needs to be done. A grand lodge – whether elegant, rustic or otherwise appealing – could make a valuable addition to the area’s allure.

According to Hoyt, while the state hasn’t formally dropped Goat Island as a potential location, it has come to recognize that the exclusive focus on the island was “inappropriate.”

The state, he said, will issue a request for proposals, at which time, “it’ll be clear that any number of locations within the four Niagara Falls state parks will be considered, and there will be a very robust public input period.”

It’s good to see state officials are listening to reasonable objections to Cuomo’s plan. It was the right idea, but in the wrong place.

Still, that’s not to say Goat Island doesn’t need attention. It does. For one thing, not enough people know that it even exists.

Try an experiment. While traveling, mention Niagara Falls and Goat Island. Everyone will know something about the first but, the farther away from the falls, the fewer will know anything about the second.

Yet Goat Island is one of the main attractions that distinguishes Niagara Falls from its livelier sister city across the river. Here, you can stand in a historic park, in the middle of the Niagara River as it breaks around the island. It compensates, at least to some extent, for the less panoramic view of the cataract that this side of the river provides.

In that way, Cuomo was right on both counts: A grand lodge and increased attention to Goat Island would both benefit the region. It’s just that they need to be pursued separately.

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