Image via WikipediaI was surprised to read a recent Niagara Gazette letter that stated the Wild Ones Niagara (WON) chapter is “made up of individuals who, by and large, belong to the Niagara Heritage Partnership (NHP). That is not true. The letter also said, “NHP joined forces with the national Wild Ones organization in an effort to give new life to their endeavor [to remove the Robert Moses Parkway].” Again, not true. We don’t sell or divulge member information, so I’m not sure how the letter writer, Michael Parsnick, came to those conclusions.
Here are the facts. If you join a Wild Ones Chapter, you have also joined the National organization. WON has 57 members. Four members (0.07%) belong to NHP. Recently, Wild Ones National surveyed their 2,000+ members asking why they joined. The main responses were an interest in regional native plants and wanting to learn more about them.
The Wild Ones Niagara study, Regional Economic Growth Through Ecological Restoration of the Niagara Gorge Rim, is not “duplication.” In the last twelve years, no one has provided the public with any socioeconomic statistics or revealed what educational and professional opportunities could occur if an ecological restoration along the Niagara River Gorge Rim included only a non-motorized, active transportation trail.
Wild Ones Niagara hired an environmental design firm from Syracuse, NY, EDR, to research the economic benefits of replacing the current conditions along the gorge rim with restored native landscapes replete with active modes of recreation—walking, hiking, and bicycling. Some call it eco-tourism, heritage tourism, cultural tourism, active tourism, or creative tourism. We call it raising our quality of life and creating professional career opportunities for current and future residents. Niagara rising after Love Canal.
WON is advocating for an ecological restoration of the botanically unique gorge and gorge rim landscapes, not Robert Moses Parkway removal. Our mission statement, “Create a sense of place through regional native plants, ecological restoration, conservation biodiversity, and open space preservation” clearly reflects our intentions, objectives, and goals.
Before receiving any Niagara River Greenway Funding, we provided a requested statement to the Greenway Ecological Standing Committee that clearly said our project is a study. It is not about an action. The study, in progress since March, is examining the potential educational, social, economic, and environmental benefits of conservation biodiversity, open space preservation, restoring the Niagara Gorge Rim.
Before presenting our project to The Niagara River Greenway Commission, we obtained The Seattle Mobility Plan and research from the Trust for Public Land, a national organization endorsed by the Buffalo Niagara Partnership as an Authority. The Buffalo Niagara Partnership is a business leadership organization. The information, provided by national and world experts, is on our website, www.wildonesniagara.org
According to a document prepared by the Political Economy Research Institute (PERI, University of Massachusetts, Amherst), the economic benefits of “maintaining the natural environment” are measurable. It’s called environmental economics. PERI’s report, The NYS Park System: An Economic Asset to the Empire State, “challenges the presumption that there are stark trade-offs between generating jobs and protecting the environment.” In addition, it says, “quality of life in New York improve[s], and thereby influences business location decisions and the ability to attract a high-quality workforce.”
Other research has found many positive socioeconomic benefits could occur and significantly improve the quality of life for our residents and our region if the NHP proposal and our study were embraced, implemented, and marketed.
Wild Ones Niagara has systematically provided the public with well-documented facts, not Chicken Little antics. A study to restore the native landscapes between Niagara Falls, NY and Lewiston carries substantial socioeconomic merit. High paying professional careers, education opportunities for our young people, quality of life through natural ecological services, and the revitalization of urban centers are a few of the opportunities noted by land planners around the world. Our Wild Ones study could literally change how we live in our region.
We believe an informed public is empowered and agree with Mr. Parsnick that being “vigilant” is important, especially when it concerns the local officials he referenced. All bureaucrats have an obligation to be fully informed about an issue. If they don’t like what they hear, they still have an obligation to tell you everything so you can decide. In our opinion, it is a sad commentary on any elected official’s integrity if they refuse to respect information and attempt to denigrate and suppress it.
UB President, John Simpson summarized it best when he said, “It is hard to understand a logic based on an unwillingness to change an obvious failed status quo.” So, why would some elected officials deliberately place our greatest asset--the City of Niagara Falls, the waterfalls, the gorge, and rim—“in a remarkably disadvantaged position?” Why would any elected official attempt to “hamstring one of our best opportunities” for economic development, something that has the potential to benefit everyone?
Merely keeping what we have now without exploring all of the opportunities for ecological and economic excellence is discrimination. It suppresses. We feel an informed public coupled with documented, authoritative information is a civic right. You have a right to know all the facts and socioeconomic possibilities that could occur with a fully restored Niagara Gorge Rim.
Michelle Vanstrom, President, Niagara Falls and River Region Chapter and
National Board Member, Wild Ones Native Plants, Natural Landscapes