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MAY 19 - MAY 26, 2015

Letchworth gets New Nature Center

By James Hufnagel

May 19, 2015

Image from Campaign for the Letchworth Nature Center brochure. Heaven forfend children not having access to video games for a couple of hours in the formerly rustic park.


While State Parks Neglects Local Historic Structures

Last week, groundbreaking for a new $7 million Nature Center took place at Letchworth State Park, attended by Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey, State Senator Patrick Gallivan and over 100 citizens including members of the Friends of Letchworth and the Genesee Region State Park Commission.

According to a brochure distributed by the Campaign for the Letchworth Nature Center, the new facility, to be located next to the Trailside Lodge in the southern sector of the 17-mile long park which straddles the Genesee River and its spectacular gorge and extensive trail system, will feature "exhibits and activity areas (which) will enrich visitor appreciation of the park's unique geology, archaeology, natural history, spectacular scenery and wide-ranging programs... It will be a friendly, relaxed place that inspires visitors to support and care for the park, offering both indoor and outdoor activities and serving as a trailhead for walkers and hikers."

"Facilities and Amenities" of the 5,000 square foot Nature Center are to include permanent and changing exhibits, space for school groups, a kiosk for sales of gifts and souvenirs such as field guides, books, postcards and assorted wildlife and nature knickknacks, and educational technology including WiFi access.

On a warm, beautiful mid-May afternoon with ample sunshine and a soft breeze, Lt. Gov. Hochul gave the most entertaining speech of the day at the thickly-forested venue, recounting happy childhood excursions to Letchworth during her urban Lackawanna upbringing, magical times with extended family, camping, cook-outs and long walks in the woods.

"And if you ask me, this is the best canyon on Earth. Oh, I know about the Grand Canyon. I've been there. And it has nothing on our Letchworth gorge. I mean it. Here we have green. There it's hot and dusty - with donkeys all over the place!" and the crowd erupted in laughter.

Speeches by Harvey and Gallivan were largely forgettable, the senator seemingly not quite sure what he was doing there, other than the fact that something good was going on and as a politician he should be associated with it, and Harvey extolling the virtues of Gov. Cuomo's "NY Parks 2020: A 7-Point Vision for Transforming NYS Parks" plan which includes the new Nature Center.

"This is the state's #1 park!" enthused the Commissioner, "In fact, it's the #1 park in the entire country!" but we bet she says that to all the parks.

And if Niagara Falls State Park is any indication, when you hear the Governor and Commissioner Harvey talk about "transforming" your park, there's good cause for alarm and foreboding.

From an 18-page, glossy brochure available on an information table in the refreshment tent, we learn that "In his first term, Governor Cuomo has made tremendous progress to revitalize parks... By 2020, NY Parks will leverage private philanthropy and other public dollars to yield a $900 million investment in State Parks." A pie chart splits that up as follows: 52% for "infrastructure" (sewer and water, roads and parking, utilities and renovation projects), 27% for recreational facilities (bathrooms, campgrounds and golf courses), 11% for new Visitor Facilities (such as the Letchworth Nature Center) and 10% for "Resiliency and Stewardship" (historic sites, dams, natural resource improvements and trails).

In summary, 90% for contractors who contribute heavily to political campaigns to build stuff, and less that 10% for history, nature and trails.

For example, Parsons Brinckerhoff, the worldwide engineering and development firm that will manage construction of the new Letchworth Nature Center, contributed $15,000 in four separate payments to Gov. Cuomo's re-election campaign over a period spanning 2013 and 2014.

That's how thing work, at least in New York State.

It's interesting that the Campaign for the Letchworth Nature Center has raised nearly $1.5 million in private donations towards the construction of a building on state parkland which will be, in perpetuity, the exclusive property of state government. Should there arise issues over programs, maintenance or any other aspect of operations, it is not known what role the grass-roots citizen's volunteer group will play in future decision-making, if any.

Cuomo's 2020 plan also identifies $50 million of "improvements" to Niagara Falls State Park, however, it appears zero millions are being funneled to evaluate, renovate or otherwise rescue historic buildings at DeVeaux Woods or Fort Niagara State Parks. An agreement with a private investor to rehab buildings at Fort Niagara was recently terminated. A couple of years ago, a local initiative to establish a botanical school at DeVeaux was stalled into oblivion by a State Parks bureaucracy intent on protecting its monopoly on Niagara Falls waterfront.

Meanwhile, an isolated park out in the boondocks will get a new Nature Center, plunked down in the middle of formerly pristine woods.

Scores of tree stumps clutter future construction site. Removing nature to make room for new Nature Center.


Groundbreaking for new Letchworth Nature Center last week.






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