New York State has wisely decided to back away from its controversial plan to allow the construction of a lodge on Goat Island, or anywhere else in Niagara Falls State Park. The building of a “grand lodge” never should have been considered for this historic property where visitors – the public – could go to contemplate the serenity and natural beauty of the place.
Something this special never should have been at risk of development. Nor should it be in the future. We’ll take state officials at their word that the island and its surroundings are safe.
The plan for a lodge on Goat Island surfaced over the winter, and sparked immediate howls of protest, which carried the day. Back then this page said that Frederick Law Olmsted envisioned Goat Island as a place of natural beauty, not development.
Sam Hoyt, regional director of Empire State Development, explained in an understatement that there was a lot of feedback and, “It did become a distraction.”
The recent request for proposals issued by Empire State Development cited that public opposition as the reason for ruling out any lodge within the main state park at the falls. The RFP, however, doesn’t give up on the lodge idea on state land along the Niagara River. It suggests a 1.3-acre parking lot in Whirlpool State Park, near the restrooms, as a potential location. Also mentioned is converting Schoellkopf Hall, a former dormitory in DeVeaux Woods State Park in northern Niagara Falls, into a lodge. In addition, the RFP says, “bidders may suggest any other site adjacent to a state park or New York Power Authority property.” The deadline for proposals is Sept. 15.
The RFP goes far beyond asking for proposals for a lodge. It wants ideas for better recreational opportunities along the 11 miles of riverfront – a “green necklace” – above and below the falls.
State officials say the primary purpose of the RFP is to dramatically increase the outdoor recreation opportunities in and around Niagara Falls and the state parks, a decadeslong effort that has seen only halting progress. To be sure, the American side is the one that celebrates nature, rather than wax museums. But appropriate development to capture more tourism dollars should be welcomed.
The outdoor recreation sector of the tourism economy is fast-growing: rappelling, rock climbing, zip lining and hiking or cross-country skiing, as examples. These are activities that might interest people who come to enjoy the falls’ natural beauty.
The state’s ultimate goal is to extend the stay of tourists, and by providing more of these recreational activities believes it can be accomplished. But plunking a hotel on Goat Island would change the character of that magnificent place and detract from the state’s renewed emphasis on outdoor recreation.