Niagara Falls State Park is the oldest in the nation, founded in 1885. It hosts just over nine million visitors annually and is among the most iconic natural monuments in North America. The state park itself is 221 acres and was designed by the leading landscape architect of the day, Fredrick Law Olmsted.
Many activists have been calling for the removal of the park’s three massive surface parking lots and unnecessary roadways inside the park. They would like the state to fund a reforestation effort that will make the island a destination for hikers and adventurists.
In recent years, local preservationists have criticized modern era improvements to the park as “tacky over development” of a landscape they say should remain untouched. They cite the Observation Tower as being the principle blight on the natural wonder and would like to explore alternative ways to provide visitors access to the gorge, so that it can one day be removed.
The city’s preservation community has made progress towards the eventual removal of the Robert Moses Parkway along the Niagara Gorge, and activists intend to push for a removal of the Robert Moses Parkway from the Grand Island Bridge to downtown in the coming new year.
“The New York State Power Authority is sitting on hundreds of acres of waterfront land and preventing public access and public use,” explains a longtime resident of Orchard Parkway in the struggling Main Street section of the city. “It’s time to remove parking lots and highways and begin to reforest the river’s edge. Our objective should be nothing short of making the Falls the most beautiful city in the world.”
Niagara Falls businessmen are supportive of the effort. Forcing people to park in downtown Niagara Falls and walk a couple blocks to the State Park will help speed the business district’s revival. Having stronger foot traffic will be good for local restaurants, shops, and entertainment attractions vying for the Park’s visitors.
On most days, the public parking garage at the Rainbow Mall has considerable extra parking capacity, and the garage at Seneca Niagara Casino rarely exceeds half capacity.
But the interests of state bureaucrats may rule the day: New York State generates millions in revenue from the parking operation each year. Would the Governor forgo that revenue to benefit downtown merchants? It remains unclear.