A look around Niagara Falls State Park, one quickly notices a slew of social distancing cones and other measures that have been implimented to mitigate risks associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. With the region in the second phase of reopening, one would expect there to be a more detailed plan coming shortly from Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul.
However his critics say Governor Andrew Cuomo has been slow to address obvious COVID-related public health risks at Niagara Falls State Park — and with only days until the City’s typically bustling season begins on Memorial Day weekend — the Governor is missing in action. If the administration doesn’t act more deliberately to reopen the park safely, it could badly damage the City’s short tourist season.
Local business leaders are worried about crowded Maid of the Mist boats, boarding stations, and guest lines — which are often more than fours long during peak weekends in July and August. They also worry about long lines at the Cave of the Winds attraction, packed tour buses, and the crowds that typically form at the precipice of the Falls.
It’s unclear whether the Maid of the Mist, which packs hundreds of passengers on each tour boat, will want to operate. Observers are wondering if the Governor will allow the operation for the season, given his penchant for social disancing. There has been speculation that the Governor will reopen the attraction next year but at loading docks located much further from the base of the Falls — where throngs of visitors wait in line for hours to board the boats.
By reopening pedestrian trails that run under the Rainbow Bridge, pedestrians can be redirected north along the lower Niagara River to the site of the former Schoelkopf Power Plant, to onboard the tours boats where the Maid of the Mist has built winter storage docks. There is much more space at that site for onboarding and offboarding, retail, visitor experience activities, and elevators to exit the gorge near the Niagara Aquarium.
Public health critics are also demanding that the State expand the Cave of the Winds attraction, such that guests can be more distantly spaced and bottlenecks can be mitigated. By lengthening trails at the base of Goat Island and Terrapin Point, the Park can expand public access to the water’s edge, in a way that allows for greater spacing between groups of guests.
The most uncrowded and underutilized portions of the State Park exist on the far end of Goat Island, which has some landscape architects conjuring up ideas to reduce crowd density nearest the Falls by creating new attractions that pull pedestrians’ father from it. Doing so in a way that compliments the naturalistic, eco-centric experience that visitors are looking for is a challenge. Some have suggested open-air, unticketed zoological habitats stationed around the back-end of the island.