Thursday, October 20, 2011

Gov. Andrew Cuomo: Tell Wallenda No

Dear Editor,

In 1827,the schooner Michigan was loaded up with a cargo of "worthless and viscous dogs" and other animals an American bison, a goose, two raccoons,and one bear--and floated over the Horseshoe Falls for entertainment.It was reported that twenty-five thousand people lined the banks to watch it go over. I depicted this event to mock and deplore it, in a poem called Looking For Niagara to recount this cruel idea of fun. The poem became the title poem of a book of poetry published by Slipstream Press in 1993; the poem is now available online (Google or at Looking for Niagara, Niagara Falls Poetry Project).

In March of 2012 a nonfiction book of mine, Niagara Digressions, in which this event is re-presented, will be released by Starcherone Books. It's a piece of history that should have taught us something, but it doesn't appear to have done so. Betsy Potter, Niagara Frontier artist, recognizes this and, stunned by this casually horrific and exploitive day in our legacy,has for years been researching and working on a painting of the schooner heading toward the brink of the Falls, a period-authentic portrayal of the ship and the dressed manikins that accompanied the living animals to their deaths. This painting will be on display at a showing of Betsy's work, together with a dozen or more of her paintings, at a show scheduled to open on 5 February 2012 at Niagara University's Castellani Art Museum, concluding the Topspin Regional Exhibition Series

The schooner Michigan plunging over the Falls prefigured an era of daredevils and other stunters, starting with jumper Sam Patch in 1829--and continuing with those who went over the Falls in barrels and other contraptions, shot the lower rapids in barrels, rode them in boats, attempted swimming the rapids, wire walkers over the gorge, an attempted kayak ride over the Falls--and culminating with the last of the wire walkers, Samuel Dixon, aka Daring Dixon, in 1890, who earned a total of $56.00. A fair number of these stunters and performers died, which was part of what compelled people to watch them in the first place, but in the end, the spectators had grown bored with it all. The last of the barrel-over-falls riders were
Peter DeBernardi and Jeffery Petkovitch, who took the plunge together in 1989. All of these mentioned, and the rest of them, have been documented in "Looking for Niagara."

In 1951, arising from the death of the well-known riverman and barrel-rider,Red Hill, Jr., laws were passed both in Canada and New York State that prohibited further stunting and other such performances—and so for over a half century these actions have been against the law. Public safety was undoubtedly a concern, but many also welcomed the laws as expressing an awareness that the background of the falls should not be perceived or utilized as a backdrop for circus events. If people want to see a wire walker they should go to a circus.

In 2011, however, the arrival of wire walker Wallenda on the scene, arguing that he should be permitted to rig a wire over the Falls, seems to have prompted Senator Maziarz and Assemblyman Ceretto to ask the Governor to rescind or suspend the law. Their reasoning has to do with an economic benefit they imagine will be realized by the chronically depressed City of Niagara Falls and the surrounding area. How this supposedly one-time event will be of real and sustained help, however sincere the Senator and Assemblyman are, is open to serious question. The mere expense of stringing the cable would quickly be used to justify leaving it in place for longer than the one walk, perhaps all summer, perhaps for an indeterminate time. Already other wire walkers have expressed an interest: they reason that if it's there for one, why not them? It's too easy to imagine the return to the circus of the eighteen hundreds and the proliferation of other abuses until the character of the Falls is further debased.

We urge Governor Cuomo to turn down this request for reversing the law. We further urge him to encourage Senator Maziarz and Assemblyman Ceretto, if they are truly interested in the economic well-being of the City of Niagara Falls and the region, to cease and desist their opposition to the proposal for total gorge parkway removal between Niagara Falls and Lewiston, NY.

We need their support and the support of others for a project that calls for an ecological restoration of the gorge rim that would provide long term and sustainable economic growth, while preserving, restoring, and honoring our environmental legacy. We have gathered and provided evidence that a highly focused eco tourism and heritage campaign could create the benefits that other communities around the world have already experienced with similar highway removal projects. The templates are already in place. Have Maziarz and Ceretto studied the details of our 15 year advocacy for removal? They have not.

The Business and Professional Associations of Niagara Falls support total removal; the Niagara Falls City Council supports total removal; the Niagara Falls Tourism Tourism Advisory Board supports total removal; over 30 Niagara Falls Block Clubs support total removal, along with the total of 80+ other groups and organizations, as do 2,199 individuals from across the nation and internationally, who've signed the online petition at

But Senator Maziarz and Assemblyman Ceretto oppose it. They oppose it because...well, just because.

We encourage them to abandon their ideas of quick-fix wire-walking solutions and to
study the gorge parkway removal proposal sufficiently to prepare themselves to sit down with members of the Niagara Heritage Partnership, City Council members, and Tourism Advisory Board members, and others to discuss the details of the issue. If all of our above suggestions fail, we rest our hopes on the steadfast position of the Parks Commission in Canada on the topic of stunting. A wire walker can't walk if the wire is attached only on one end.

Bob Baxter
Niagara Heritage Partnership
Conservation Chair

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Robert Moses Parkway Scoping Alternatives

Dear Editor,

While the six Niagara gorge parkway options revealed on 6 June by the scoping team hired by the Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP) generally appeared to respond to a variety of constituents and to cover an impressive range, there are several points that need to be made about the way they are being presented.

Since the Niagara Heritage Partnership first proposed total gorge parkway removal in 1997, we have continuously fought two perceptions formulated by the opposition and often repeated by the press in letters-to-the editor and by some politicians. The first of these is that total removal is an "extreme" notion. If we had a dollar for every time we, or the proposal, were referred to as "extreme," we could pay for removal and have money left over. The second is the idea that if the parkway were removed, then all the traffic that it carried would immediately shift to Lewiston Road.

As to the charge of being "extreme," we observe that's a subjective judgement. One person's extremist is another person's conservative. What could be more conservative than restoring our natural gorge rim legacy, an action that would not only save enormous sums in years to come, but has the potential to generate economic benefits for our region? Details supporting this view are to be found at We were disappointed, therefore, to find the proposal for total removal once again characterized as being "extreme," this time by a member of the scoping team, if he were accurately quoted, in a Sentinel article (11 June 2011) titled "Robert Moses Parkway concepts presented, analyzed, debated."

The video presentation of the options made it seem obvious, both verbally and visually, that the result of significant parkway removal would be that "traffic would then use Lewiston Road," as if there were no alternative routes. This is not at all obvious, which this study should have revealed. For the study not to reveal this is to make the scoping nothing more than an opinion poll based on incomplete information. We question, therefore, to what extent these biased perspectives influenced those who might have otherwise, if they'd been properly informed, chosen total removal as the preferred option.

The Niagara Heritage Partnership has in the past attempted to counter the "all-parkway-traffic-will-use-Lewiston Road" argument with the following four points of information: 1) highway removal studies from across the nation, if not around the world, have indicated that traffic patterns seldom follow the patterns predicted prior to removal, dire or otherwise; the tendencies are for drivers to fan out to use alternative routes, and 2) we do, indeed, have alternate routes here, though removal opponents refuse to acknowledge this, and 3) even, as unlikely as it is, if every single car currently using the parkway were to suddenly start to use Lewiston Road, the daily traffic count would still be less than half of the traffic count currently using Hyde Park Boulevard, another south-north route in Niagara Falls, and 4) NHP clearly provided the foundations of this information to the scoping team on 27 October 2010 in the document titled, "The Niagara Heritage Partnership Position Re RMP/Niagara Gorge Corridor Project: Meeting No. 4 for Representatives of Organized Groups." This is now available on the NHP website under Recent Postings. Why it was ignored is puzzling.

Now the "extreme" charge has been revived by those in favor of gorge parkway retention--as seen in a Sentinel article of 18 June, the issue immediately following the one in which the scoping team member characterized the total removal option as "extreme." In that extensive article, County Legislator Richard Soluri declared his motto for parkway retention: "Reject extremism and embrace reason," now the centerpiece of the parkway "Preservation" campaign. Soluri is the one, who at the Open House unveiling of the parkway options, sat behind the Parsons' sign-in table for an extended period of time, smiling and welcoming members of the public as they arrived as if he, long-time and well-known opponent of parkway removal, had arranged the event--or at the very least had an extremely close relationship with the consulting team...and that we all knew how this necessary charade was going to play out.

Unaccustomed to the brazen level of gall practiced by some on the Niagara Frontier, no member of the Parsons team, to my knowledge, suggested to Soluri that it was inappropriate for him to be sitting behind the table and asked him to remove himself.

Further, the options presented were bare-bones concepts without even rough dollar amounts assigned to each option. Could rough estimates have been provided? Even approximations that came within 3-5 million of the costs of each would have revealed that the total removal option is the only one where costs would have been paid for by eliminating maintenance expenses--and the only one with high potential for regional economic gains. Without this level of comparison, the total removal option suffers a disadvantage. (We realize "Construction costs" are part of "Next Steps," but to ask public opinion without at least ballpark numbers seems to be be out of order.) Additionally, the absence of narratives for each option crippled the judgements of those looking at what amounted to a series of map drawings--where was the information, for example, that every option with the exception of total removal would require annual maintenance expenditures of about a quarter million dollars?

The above paragraph cites serious shortcomings that must be put on the desk of OPRHP, whose acceptance of the process and comparison methodology must have been a final step prior to public presentation. Following are two other areas of concern: 1) The distribution of the "Comment" sheets present another troubling possibility: for the sake of clarification, must all votes or endorsements of specific options be made via only this avenue? If, for example, a person wrote and mailed in a brief statement in support of option # 6, would it be counted even though the person did not make use of a "Comment" sheet? 2) What is the target population for this option evaluation? It seems to us that a restricted "local" one does a disservice to a unique State Park that incorporates a natural feature--waterfalls and gorge-- known the world over. If merely local interests are allowed to decide its future, the risk is a parochial result.

The Niagara Heritage Partnership also questions the rationale for "Improve transportation" as part of the "Project Objectives." In what sense is that part of the OPRHP mission? We suggest that having "improve transportation" as an objective favors some variation of parkway retention and is, therefore, a built-in bias. We'd like to see "Restoration of natural landscapes without a parkway" on the "Project Objective" list. Is there any chance of that happening? Please help us out here.

From our perspective it's the responsibility of State Parks to live up to its stewardship mandate for the natural park environment here, to rise above and to resist the hare-brained schemes that are in conflict with that mandate. OPRHP should not be expected to, obligated to, coerced into, or otherwise persuaded to maintain a parkway, for example, that is in itself destructive, and at odds with their mission, because some mispercieve this road as the vital connection to other "attractions" in the region, at least one of which is also destructive of the natural environment--the jet boat, for example.

For what it's worth, I believe the use of the word "extreme" was an inadvertent, innocent usage by the scoping team member, who had no idea it was so loaded a term in this context. From our perspective the Parsons team conduct re this scoping has been honest, straightforward, professional, fair--all things good. But it is probable that the use of the word has harmed our advocacy, anyway, how severely, it is impossible to calculate. That cannot be called back, but some of the flawed process and direction of the scoping may be corrected, and we urge OPRHP to take the necesary steps to do so.

Bob Baxter
NHP Conservation Chair

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Fading Into Myth: Niagara Fall's Landscape - Spread the Message

Fading Into Myth: Spread the Message - Restore Niagara Fall's Landscape

Spread the Message - Restore Niagara Fall's Landscape

If I could spread my message right now to 1 million people, I would tell them about the vision to remove the Robert Moses Gorge Parkway from the Niagara Gorge Rim as necessary to ecologically restore the unique botanical landscapes of Niagara Falls, NY and the Niagara River Gorge rim.

I’d direct them to and ask them to sign the online petition--and then please mail a letter with a postmarked date no later than July 1, 2011, to New York State's Governor Cuomo and to NYS Parks' Commissioner, Rose Harvey. I would ask them to send copies to NYS Senators Charles Schumer, Kirsten Gillibrand George Maizarz, Mark Grisanti, to Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, Assemblyman John Ceretto, to NYS Parks Western Director Mark Thomas, to the Parson's Group consultants, and to the Buffalo News, The Niagara Gazette, The Buffalo Business First, and the Albany Times Union.

I’d ask them to say the following:

1. They want to see the road totally removed between Niagara Falls and Lewiston,

2. They embrace and share the vision for NYS Parks and the Niagara Gorge Rim as put forth and advocated for these last 15 years by The Niagara Heritage Partnership. Tell them you believe it could be funded, and implemented, within the next three years through the Niagara River Greenway Relicensing dollars, through the Niagara National Heritage Area funds, through Federal Administration Funds, by another New York Power Authority sweep, through NYS Park's Heritage and Preservation Grant funds, or through bonds.

3. I would ask them to speak for those who can't: the flora--the native plants, the Old Growth Forest at DeVeaux Woods and Whirlpool State Parks, the ancient cedars growing in the gorge walls, and for the wildlife--the birds that migrate this Globally Significant Important Bird Area (the Niagara River and its shorelines), and for the deer that lay dead for a week against the parkway cement wall that prohibited its access to the natural environment.

4. I would ask each to write he or she strongly believes this vision will economically benefit not only the residents of a financially challenged city, but will also benefit the millions of tourists who come to see Frederick Law Olmsted's unparalleled 1880's vision--NY's first and oldest State Park.

5. I would ask them to promise that they will visit the charming northern villages when they come to see our restored wonder, but they want to do it by alternate routes--the I-190, Route 265, and via Highland/Hyde Park Blvd.

6. I would ask them to mention that they have learned about how other cities around the United States and the world have removed and are removing their highway mistakes.

7. Finally, I would ask them to state unequivocally that anything less than total removal of the gorge parkway and a full restoration would do a disservice to the multitudes that travel to this world destination and to those of us who live in this western New York region.

USA Today:
Albany Times Union:
Buffalo Business First:
Buffalo News:
Niagara Gazette:

Governor Andrew Cuomo: (518) 474-8390
Congresswoman Louise Slaughter: Fax: NY: (716) 282-2479, Fax: Washington DC  Fax: (202) 225-7822
Senator Charles E. Schumer: Fax: 716-846-4113
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand: Fax (866) 824-6340 
Senator Mark Grisianti:,
Senator George Maziarz:
Assemblyman John Ceretto:

Rose Harvey, Commissioner, NYS Parks:
Mark Thomas, Western Director, NYS Parks:
Tom Donahue, Parsons Group:
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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Removing the Robert Moses Parkway

Robert Moses State Parkway - New YorkImage by dougtone via Flickr

Removal of the Robert Moses Parkway is about creating something unique. And, restoring the landscape makes economic, environmental, and ecological sense.

Some may not want the road removed for self-serving reasons, but to deliberately ignore the socioeconomic, quality of life facts does everyone in this struggling region and economy a major disservice.

It's a given that removal is the most cost-effective alternative.  It's also a given that restoration could create high-paying careers for the next 100 years. It will take longer than that to restore our Old Growth Forest, the one cut in two by the Parkway when it was built.

The principals guiding our Niagara Falls National Heritage Area and the Niagara River Greenway list the natural environment first, yet it is the last one being addressed. I expected better, great things, from both Commissions, from their consultants, from people I elected.

Compromise, as many propose it, is nothing more than politics. It clouds the scioeconomic impacts, benefits and opportunities for our residents. Those opportunities can infuse billions into our economy, keep our young people here through career employment, keep tourists here longer, and protect our botanical wealth, our visual and natural heritage.

Those are all of the issues I’ve heard lamented since I’ve lived here, 26 years.

When was the last time anyone asked you to create or do something great? I'm asking. I’m asking you to create something magnificent with the Niagara Gorge Rim. I'm asking each of you to stand up and actually fight for our City. I’m asking you to read the articles and website listed below.

We could go from being the Love Canal disaster story to an ecological and economic innovation, a rebirth, just through the removal of a section of redundant road. It would lift our city from its tainted Love Canal identity and transform us into a leader in ecological restoration. Removal and restoration would advance a green economy, the trajectory of the future happening around the globe.

Removal and restoration are significant. It’s never been done in the east." Those statements are from a woman Wild Ones Niagara brought to the City two weeks ago, an ecological restoration expert, retired from the Federal Highway Administration. Everyone wins with Removal and restoration, including State Parks.

Here are some facts and resources.
If you haven't seen Fading in the Mist. Ask co-producer Bob Borgatti, a Niagara Falls National Heritage Area commissioner, to screen it. It changed my perception about the waterfall and the city.

To learn about the benefits of nonmotorized trails, see the Rails-to-Trails website. It includes a Federal funding source:

Here are three articles detailing what others have done with road removal and one about the benefits of Urban Parks:  How an inner city freeway disappeared.  Freeway Teardowns A Prudent Choice  Top Freeway Teardowns  Reviving Struggling Urban Areas with Parks.

We can become world recognized leaders, ho hum followers, or remain as the uninformed status quo, getting out of everyone's way, run over, another missed opportunity.
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