Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Press Release

September 18, 2018

New York State Announces $6.5 Million Grant to Expand Empire State Trail Initiative in Western New York

Grant Will Connect City of Niagara Falls to New York City, Expand Trail Connections and Enhance Niagara Gorge Access

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation has received a $6.5 million grant from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation to expand the Empire State Trail initiative in Western New York. The grant will be used to enhance the trail with gateways, signage, kiosks, bike racks and other amenities that will make it a world-class destination. The grant will also be used to help complete the Shoreline Trail and add trail amenities from Buffalo to Niagara Falls.

"The Empire State Trail provides residents and visitors with expanded access to New York's world-class natural beauty, driving tourism and economic activity to communities in every corner of the state," Governor Cuomo said. "This significant investment from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation will further enhance our State's picturesque trails, positioning Western New York and our entire state as a leading destination for outdoor recreation."

"This significant funding will expand the Empire State Trail improving connections and enhancing access to the Niagara Gorge," Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul said. "The Empire State Trail spans from Buffalo to Albany and New York City, and with this support we're establishing an important connection between Niagara Falls and New York City allowing New Yorkers to experience all the great recreational opportunities our state has to offer. Thank you to the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation for investing in our statewide tourism industry and boosting the economy of Western New York."

Today, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner Rose Harvey and Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation President and CEO David Egner visited Devil's Hole State Park to announce the grant for the WNY Greenways Initiative, which includes investments in the Empire State Trail, the Niagara River Greenway and the Shoreline Trail. The $6.5 million grant funding will be administered through the Natural Heritage Trust, a New York State public benefit corporation, and will result in more than 20 miles of regional trail improvements, five Empire State Trail "Gateway" trailheads and 90 miles of trail amenities along the Empire State Trail corridor.

The Foundation's funding builds on New York State's $23 million investment to improve the Empire State Trail from Buffalo to Rochester and to enhance outdoor recreation opportunities in the Niagara Gorge.

The projects being funded include:

  • Empire State Trail: $3.7 million to improve 13.5 miles of the Empire State Trail; create four gateways, which will be formal trailheads in Buffalo, Lockport, Tonawanda and Rochester; and install trail user amenities along the 90-mile route from Buffalo to Rochester. This grant will leverage $6.58 million in state funding.
  • Niagara River Greenway Shoreline Trail: $1.6 million to complete 7.4 miles of the Shoreline Trail in the Wheatfield/LaSalle sections, which will connect Niagara Falls to the Tonawandas. The grant will also provide a new trail connection and Gateway in the Tonawandas. Construction of the new trail segments completes a significant portion of the Niagara River Greenway and will connect the Shoreline Trail to the Empire State Trail to New York City. This grant will leverage $7.19 million in state funding.
  • Devil's Hole State Park: $1.1 million in matching funds to provide a new Gateway and reconstruction of the historic stairways and trails along a section of the Niagara River Gorge. This grant will leverage $1.4 million in state funding.

Maps of the projects are available here.

New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner Rose Harvey said, "While every project funded through this grant will enhance the trails and outdoor recreational opportunities throughout Western New York and the Rochester area, I am particularly thrilled that this grant will help further the vision of Governor Cuomo's plan for the Empire State Trail. Connecting Western New York to New York City via this trail will serve to create opportunity for all New Yorkers while connecting communities along the way."

Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation President and CEO David Egner said, "The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation is pleased to partner with NYS Parks, NHT, The Niagara River Greenway and the Empire State Trail to connect diverse communities in Erie, Niagara, Monroe and Orleans counties. We know that when we can leverage our gifts with additional sources of funding, creative and visionary projects such as these can be created and sustained for communities to enjoy for generations to come."

Empire State Trail Executive Director Andy Beers said, "A portion of New York State's $200 million investment is focused on trail construction, to create a continuous Erie Canalway Trail route from Buffalo to Albany. The Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation's gift will allow to us to install trailheads, interpretive signage, landscaping, and other amenities to provide a world-class experience to the millions of residents and tourists who will visit the trail annually in Western New York."

Niagara River Greenway Executive Director Gregory Stevens said, "The improvements to these trails will help connect the Niagara River Greenway and create livable communities in urban, suburban and rural communities from Buffalo to Rochester and along the Niagara River, one of the greatest natural resources in the country. Connecting our communities and encouraging healthy activity is paramount to the quality of life in Western New York and New York State and we are beyond grateful to the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation for their support of this work. Their support is empowering us to drive these long talked about projects forward."

Congressman Brian Higgins said, "This generous grant from the Ralph Wilson foundation, combined with federal and state resources, will fill in the gaps, providing an interconnected system which allows people to explore Western New York's natural destinations and travel along the water's edge from Buffalo, through the Tonawandas, to Niagara Falls and beyond."

Senator Rob Ortt said, "Our state is home to some of the most scenic locations in the entire nation; however access to these locations is just as important as the views themselves. If we are unable to increase accessibility to these natural wonders, we cannot share the best of what our state has to offer to our residents or guests. With this new investment by New York State and the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation, improved access to these locations we will ensure that anyone who wishes to see the natural beauty New York has to offer."

Senator Chris Jacobs said, "I want to thank the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation for the very generous grant they have awarded to our New York State parks. My district will benefit greatly from the improvements made to the 13.5 mile stretch of the Empire State Trail, and countless New York State residents, visitors and communities will benefit from the wonderful experiences and economic impact that will come when the trails are completed."

Assemblymember Sean Ryan said, "These projects are an important part of our commitment to making the Empire State Trail one of the best multi-use trail in the nation. This grant, combined with State funding will allow us to provide even more amenities for everyone who uses the trail. I'm excited to see the great improvements that are coming to this amazing trail system that connects so many communities throughout our state."

Assemblymember Angelo Morinello said, "I am thrilled to be here as part of this historic announcement. The Empire State Trail initiative has been an ongoing project throughout the state of New York and we in Niagara Falls and Western New York are happy and proud to be a part of this. When completed, this will be a project that can be enjoyed by all communities for future generations."

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said, "The Empire State Trail Initiative has been a significant asset to our region by connecting communities and promoting tourism. This investment will continue to enhance the natural beauty of our state and attract more visitors from across the country and the world to see all that Western New York has to offer. I thank the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation for their support of these projects and for their commitment to Governor Cuomo's vision of having world-class trailways and parks in New York State."

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said, "By making these continued investments in our natural outdoor facilities, we are encouraging New Yorkers to lead a healthy, active lifestyle while promoting tourism in our region. There are already so many exciting amenities on the Empire State Trail, and these improvements are essential to ensuring this multi-use trail remains one of the best in the world. Thanks to the funding from Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation, we are able to make these improvements and continue to provide the millions of residents and tourists who visit the trail with a top-notch experience."

Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster said, "The generous gift announced today from the Ralph Wilson Foundation will only help to enhance Governor Cuomo's strategic vision of interconnected trailways and parks, essentially closing the gap from Niagara Falls to New York City for the millions who visit every year. Thanks to this visionary project now connecting the Niagara River Greenway with the Empire State Trail, everyone from the most experienced to leisurely recreators can take advantage of the natural beauty right here in our own backyard and beyond."

About the Empire State Trail

In January 2017, Governor Cuomo announced the Empire State Trail, a new initiative placing New York State at the forefront of national efforts to enhance outdoor recreation, community vitality and tourism development.

Approximately 400 miles of the Trail already exist in discrete, disconnected segments. When completed by the end of 2020, the Empire State Trail will be a continuous 750-mile route spanning the state from New York City to Canada, and Buffalo to Albany, creating the longest multi-use state trail in the nation.