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Editorial: Returning to nature is a popular public investment

Some of the best things in life are free. Or, at least far cheaper than the multimillions spent on overpriced recreational facilities. You can see it along the Lake Erie shoreline and in towns around Erie County.

More and more people are starting to get it. Nature’s wonders should be enjoyed. First, there may need to be an investment in order to clear the path.

Two News stories recently highlighted efforts by various parties to provide more public trails and restored shorelines. One featured plans for Buffalo’s Outer Harbor and the other detailed the Town of Tonawanda’s 4-mile rails-to-trails path, among others.

Together, these projects show how much public opinion has evolved on matters of the environment and how tending to nature benefits those dependent upon clean air and water: This is, every living thing at every rung on the ecological ladder.

T.J. Pignataro wrote about the commercial slip near Wilkeson Pointe, marred by big lake freighters, industry and pollution, soon to return to nature, possibly in five years. Those are the plans unveiled this month by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The project involves using a series of stone breakwaters and dredged material from the Buffalo River to fill in the 23- to 28-foot-deep slip to more shallow depths. It will be a first-of-its-kind habitat restoration project using river sediment. As noted in the article, only five years ago that sediment was “so toxic and chemical-laden” it had to be shipped to a confined facility near Lackawanna for permanent disposal.

Thanks to the $200 million Buffalo River cleanup, such visionary projects can begin. The Corps’ first habitat of this sort in Buffalo and the Great Lakes will get underway later this year on Unity Island.

Eventually, muskellunge, a sport fish with dwindling populations, might be spawning and nursing; shorebirds will stop for rest and food and kayakers and fishermen will add the scene to their favorite waterfront venues.

Jay Burney of the Friends of Times Beach organization said it best when he talked about returning something that was lost over the last century, improving shoreline habitat and benefitting the environment, while adding recreational and economic opportunities.

Such sentiment is not reserved for the Outer Harbor. An article by Joseph Popiolkowski highlighted the opportunities in many towns are discovering in their own backyards.

It is obvious in the overwhelmingly positive reaction over the past couple of years to the Town of Tonawanda’s 4-mile rails-to-trails path. The City of Tonawanda sees an opportunity in the trails and is trying to get people to stop in to visit downtown shops.

Grand Island will join the parade of trails as the town begins construction of eight miles along its western shore this spring. As Popiolkowski wrote, the town and village of Hamburg are also starting to get on board the trails track.

Municipalities are beginning to understand that residents want an outdoor experience. It doesn’t have to be confined to expensive facilities. For example, in late November, the Hamburg Town Board terminated an expensive recreation contract. A Toronto firm planning to build a $30 million public-private sports facility in the town was told it wouldn’t be needed, after all. The scheme had drawn a flood of criticism over location and cost.

Though the pendulum may be swinging toward the great outdoors, sports facilities are far from obsolete. Projects remain in the pipeline. But the mutual benefit between environment and humankind is becoming more obvious with each outdoor step.

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