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APR 28 - MAY 05, 2015

"WNED-TV "Designing Olmsted" Program hypes so-called Park "Improvements"

By James Hufnagel

April 28, 2015

A scandal of epic proportions. The husband and wife team that designed and approved the plans for the pavers at Niagara Falls State Park made sure that only an Albany based company got to sell the pavers to contractors working at the park.
Skipping the fact that the price was 10 times the cost of other pavers, these fancy Albany (make someone rich) pavers are so slippery that Three Sisters Islands has to be closed to the public for much of the year to avoid the chance of people slipping and killing themselves on the new pavers.

Frederick Law Olmsted's plan for the Niagara Reservation called for the prohibition of restaurants and stores. He wrote, "If it were a commercial undertaking into which the State was entering, in competition with the people of the village of Niagara, it cannot be questioned that the restaurant could be made profitable." The state park not only developed a spate of stores and restaurants but even added paid parking lots - and to sweeten the irony boast of being an Olmnsted Park.

"Be More Inspired... Be More Passionate... Be more Empowered" recommends a series of promotional spots airing on the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS). When it comes to its Buffalo affiliate WNED-TV, perhaps the following should be added: "Be More Gullible".

Next Monday evening, May 4 at 9 pm is the premiere of "Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing Western New York", and the new WNED-TV documentary is already shaping up to be a massive whitewash of the so-called "Landscape Improvements" now devastating Niagara Falls State Park in flagrant disregard of anything Olmsted actually envisioned for the natural wonder and its surroundings.

While Boston PBS-affiliate WGBH produces the award-winning "Frontline" and New York City's WNET the awe-inspiring "Nature", it seems all Buffalo's taxpayer-subsidized "educational TV" station can muster every couple of years is some mediocre effort at local history that most viewers find not only boring, but often revisionist.

For example, consider the WNED-TV documentary "The War of 1812" that was panned in these pages three years ago. In pandering to the politically correct sensibilities of the average PBS audience, "The War of 1812" portrays women, minorities and Canadians (who comprise a major share of the WNED donor base) as brave and virtuous while the American military comes across as a bunch of inept, cruel, drunken buffoons.

An April 21 press release by Megan M. Wagner, WNED-TV Director of Corporate Communications, states "'Frederick Law Olmsted: Designing Western New York' provides a contemporary perspective on Olmsted’s continuing Western New York legacy by examining the current status of the Buffalo Park System, the restoration of Olmsted’s vision for Goat Island at Niagara Falls and the rebirth of what has become known as the Richardson Olmsted Complex."

Did you get that? The "restoration of Olmsted's vision".

Is there any limit to the chutzpah of these people, or their propensity to insult the public's intelligence?

Evidently, the "restoration of Olmsted's vision", in WNED-TV's view, is an apt characterization of Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Niagara Falls State Park "Landscape Improvements" plan, which was allocated $25 million in Niagara Greenway funding thanks largely to the efforts of Niagara Falls Mayor (and Greenway Vice-Chair) Paul Dyster, who for some reason neglected to demand or even, to our knowledge, recommend that the residents of his city be given the opportunity to offer input at public hearings or submit written comments to the plan before its approval and rush to implementation.

The "restoration of Olmsted's vision", in WNED-TV's view, involved the cutting down and hauling off of century-old trees to make way for expanded parking lots, bus lanes and trolley stops on Goat Island, all emblazoned by towering, Walmart-style light poles.

The "restoration of Olmsted's vision", in their eyes, included the installation of nearly a million dollar's worth of paving stones imported from an Albany-area quarry that have proven so slippery when wet that tourists routinely slip and fall, necessitating the closure of Three Sisters Islands during most of the year. Not that strolling on the narrow, fenced-in sidewalks of Three Sisters, which were formerly swathed in green but are now largely stripped of vegetation, amounts to much of an enjoyable experience anymore, anyway.

The "restoration of Olmsted's vision", according to the WNED-TV ivory tower crowd, also requires the demolition of the historic granite pedestal of the Tesla sculpture with jackhammers so that the internationally-recognized masterpiece can be carted over and screwed onto a new concrete base at the brink of the falls, no longer coming between the tourist masses and the Delaware North fast food served up at their large concessions area in the former nature preserve.

Among the "local experts" interviewed on the "Designing Olmsted" show is State Parks Western Region director Mark Thomas, the Spitzer-appointee and former Chautauqua County Executive who most certainly, when it comes to the Niagara Falls State Park Landscape Improvements plan, is merely "following orders". And we mean that in the concentration camp sense.

Thomas once told this writer that as part of his "Parks Administration" college degree, he had completed coursework on the philosophy and work of Frederick Law Olmsted. If the Niagara Falls State Park is any indication, he must have earned an "F".

Providing a kick in the pants to the tourist trade on this side of the border, another "local expert", Niagara Sierra Club chair Lynda Schneekloth, waxes eloquent about the view of the American side from Canada. Sierra Club founder and naturalist John Muir was a contemporary of Frederick Law Olmsted. Given apologists like Schneekloth, and the accelerated crass commercialization of the park thanks to recent "improvements", both must be spinning in their graves.

Wouldn't the proper "restoration of Olmsted's vision" mean removing or at least limiting cars, buses, trolleys, parking lots, ticket booths, coin-operated binoculars, tulip beds, wifi stations, restaurants, gift shops, signage, paved roads and macadam?

Look, nobody's saying "Let's turn Niagara Falls State Park into a dense rain forest that's off limits to human footprints!", but the fact remains that as long as eight million plus tourists a year park, eat, sightsee, purchase souvenirs and then leave Niagara Falls State Park on a dedicated parkway without having any reason to enter or spend money in the city, the dire situation around here isn't going to change. Olmsted had it right. Naturalizing the park would result in positive economic benefits and improved quality of life here in the city. Unfortunately, State Parks, contractors Delaware North and Maid of the Mist, and politicians like Dyster see things differently.

And WNED-TV should stick with what they do best


Aerial view of Niagara Falls State Park shows lots of pavement for lots of money making ventures such as paid parking lot, souvenir stores, restaurants and paid attractions, all in contravention to Olmsted's plans.






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