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DEC 09 - DEC 17, 2014

State Parks Closes Restrooms on Gorge Tourists, Residents Inconvenienced

By James Hufnagel

December 09, 2014

Last year's sign (left) on the door to the women's restroom at Devil's Hole State Park has been replaced with a new sign (right). State Parks would now like it to be known that closure of the restrooms is due to "winterizing" rather than "lack of consideration".
State Parks receives $3 million in Greenway funds annually, and untold wealth from eight million tourists who visit every year, but can't afford to leave the heat on at public restrooms at Whirlpool State Park, which, unlike Niagara Falls State Park, contributes nothing to Albany’s bottom line.

Last November we ran a story calling attention to the fact that the public restrooms at both Whirlpool and Devil's Hole State Parks, the only restrooms available for several miles along the Niagara Gorge from the Discovery Center to the Power Vista, are closed by New York State Parks until mid-April, 2015.

State Parks locks up these restrooms because the eight million tourists who visit Niagara Falls State Park every year, and sometimes, the Niagara Gorge, and very rarely, the city of Niagara Falls, have all gone home for the year.

Niagara Falls is one of the poorest cities in the northeastern U.S., despite having a world-famous tourist attraction at its doorstep. That's because tourists are funneled into Niagara Falls State Park on a dedicated road, the Robert Moses Parkway (which is in the process of being upgraded), park on one of 1200 state-owned parking spaces, tour Cave of the winds and ride Maid of the Mist, eat at Top of the Falls restaurant or one of several food booths and ice cream stands, purchase souvenirs at one of two gift shops in the park and then, in keeping with the 3-4 hour visit duration called for in State Parks' business model for the attraction, leave on the same dedicated parkway without need or reason to enter the city.

The reason why this status quo has been allowed to not only exist, but thrive, over the past few decades is that multimillionaire Maid of the Mist owner James Glynn and multibillionaire Delaware North owner Jeremy Jacobs return a tiny percentage of their total wealth every year as donations to charities and non-profits, and campaign contributions to politicians from the governor on down, assuring that those in a position to address this unjust and exploitative arrangement are dependent on the largesse of their rich benefactors, Jacobs and Glynn, and service them instead of acting in the public interest.

The restrooms at Whirlpool State Park are, in fact, heated, as anyone who has accessed the facilities on a chilly October afternoon can attest to. In fact, upon opening the door, one is hit in the face with a blast of warm air, and the subsequent experience is akin to answering the call of nature in a well-heated sauna. So there is no chance of frozen pipes at this location.

On the other hand, the restrooms at Devil's Hole State Park get "winterized" to prevent the pipes from freezing.

If you find yourself going for a winter hike at Devil's Hole, birdwatching in the Niagara Gorge or walking the dog, and need to "use the facilities", it's necessary to take your life in your hands and dangerously jaywalk the Robert Moses Parkway to somehow reach the Power Vista.

Twenty-five, or more than half, of the $40 million worth of Niagara Falls State Park "Landscape Improvements" being inflicted on the former nature preserve comes from the Niagara River Greenway. State Parks annually receives $3 million from the Greenway, therefore, the agency's alterations to Niagara Falls State Park are consuming more than eight years worth of its Greenway allotment. With this funding, which was supposed to be compensation to local communities for the negative environmental impacts of the Power Project as addressed by the relicensing process several years ago, State Parks contractors are building two new stand-alone restrooms at the entrance to the park's Prospect Point commercial district.

According to SnowSports Industries of America (SIA), a trade association for makers of equipment, clothing and accessories for winter sports, over 4.3 million Americans participated in cross country skiing during 2011/2012. US National Forest Service studies estimate the economic impact of cross country skiing to range from several hundred thousand dollars a year (Gallatin National Forest) to upwards of $20 million a year (Teton-Yellowstone parks).

The 115th Annual Audubon Christmas Bird Count will take place from Dec 14, 2014 to Jan. 5, 2015. Tens of thousands of birdwatchers participate every winter. Birdwatchers rank high on the socioeconomic scale. The Niagara Gorge was designated a Globally Significant Important Bird Area in 1996.

A Niagara Greenway Commission brochure states, "(We) have the opportunity to re-define the waterfront in a way that creates a balance of welcoming waterfront environment with economic interest, consisting of a linear system of state and local parks and conservation areas linked by a network of multi-use trails along giving access to the beautiful Niagara River."

Isn't it time the 80% of Niagara Falls waterfront owned and operated by New York State became a true year-round attraction, benefiting both tourist and resident alike?





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