May 28, 2019
Complements Other State Investments in Niagara Falls State Park and Niagara Falls' Downtown District
Pictures and Maps of the Gorge Can be Found Here
"Niagara Falls is a natural wonder in our own backyard, but the lesser-known Niagara Gorge area is a unique destination that must be protected," Governor Cuomo said. "The ecological restoration of this biologically diverse habitat is critical to supporting the State's ongoing investments that continue to reinvigorate tourism in Niagara Falls and revitalize the entire region."
"Niagara Falls is a gem and one of our great tourist attractions in upstate New York and around the world," said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who made today's announcement. "The Niagara River Gorge is one of the most important natural places in the world, and this additional funding will further our efforts to combat invasive species to restore and enhance the natural habitat. This investment complements our support to revitalize the Niagara Falls State Park, various hotel developments, and other projects to increase tourism and grow the economy of Western New York."
The Niagara Gorge was once one of the most botanically diverse places in North America and restoring the native flora will benefit wildlife such as migratory birds, which in turn supports the growth of the Niagara Greenway as an eco-tourism destination. Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul gave several native red oak saplings to children following the announcement to mark the occasion.
'Restore the Gorge' is transforming the ecological health of the Niagara River Gorge and Rim by controlling invasive species and planting native trees, shrubs, grasses and flowers in the Niagara Gorge from the Niagara Gorge Discovery Center to Devil's Hole State Park. The Western New York Land Conservancy has been leading the initial phase of efforts to restore and enhance the natural habitat on 37 acres of land along the gorge with an initial $1 million in funding from the New York Power Authority via the Niagara Greenway and the Ecological Standing Committee.
With the addition of $1 million from Empire State Development in January 2017, as well as funds from New York Sea Grant and the Verizon Media Community Benefit Fund for Niagara County (formerly the Oath Community Fund), the Land Conservancy has been able to expand the initial phase of removing invasive species, and is working to restore an additional 48 acres within the gorge and along the rim in Whirlpool State Park. This second installment of Greenway Ecological Fund grants will further advance the project. Land in the project area is owned by the New York Power Authority and by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation.
Land Conservancy Executive Director Nancy Smith said, "Working in the Niagara Gorge is an extraordinary opportunity to give back to nature in a place that builds community, while showcasing the value of native plants on the world stage. Our efforts will increase biodiversity, provide habitat for butterflies and songbirds, and purify our fresh water. This project will reconnect people with nature and enhance the economic vibrancy of Niagara Falls."
Empire State Development President, CEO & Commissioner Howard Zemsky said, "Our work to expand economic opportunities and improve the visitor experience in downtown Niagara Falls is taking hold, and the efforts underway in the Gorge will further the strategic investments in our State Parks and tourism assets in Western New York."
New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation Commissioner Erik Kulleseid said, "The work that the Western New York Land Conservancy is doing to restore the Niagara Gorge is monumental. It is work that is important to maintain the health of the gorge and in addition, speaks to how good things happen when you work with partners in the community. I thank Governor Cuomo for his ongoing commitment to Niagara Falls and New York State Parks as well as the New York Power Authority and the Niagara River Greenway Commission."
New York Power Authority Board of Trustees Chairman John R. Koelmel said, "The New York Power Authority is pleased to support the ongoing important work to 'Restore the Gorge' including planting native vegetation and combatting invasive species. When visitors come to Niagara and when residents head outside we want them to enjoy the beautiful scenery and take advantage of the recreational opportunities this area offers. With these Gorge improvements and the parkway removal and trail development we are ensuring that future generations will be able to enjoy these outdoor spaces for years to come."
Niagara River Greenway Commission Executive Director Greg Stevens said, "The Niagara River Greenway is committed to providing a world class trail experience for walking and wellness, and there is nowhere better than the Niagara Gorge to highlight the potential this community has to be a true recreation destination. We will achieve our goal only by working with community groups like the Western New York Land Conservancy and leaders like Governor Cuomo."
Congressman Brian Higgins said, "The Western New York Land Conservancy is leading the way on identifying, preserving and enhancing unique pieces of Western New York's natural landscape. The Niagara Gorge is a destination like none other. This additional investment of Niagara Greenway money, made possible through the relicensing settlement with the New York Power Authority, will build on New York State's significant investment in Niagara Falls."
Senator Rob Ortt said, "The 'Restore the Gorge' project is a vitally important endeavor that will see the natural beauty and diverse ecosystem surrounding Niagara Falls continues to flourish. As home to one of the natural wonders of the world, our community is tasked with protecting and nurturing a landscape that is responsible for drawing millions of travelers from around the globe. I am proud that we have recognized the importance the falls and the wildlife surrounding it has on our region and we must work together to ensure this scenic environment continues to thrive for generations to come."
Assembly Member Angelo Morinello said, "Thank you to the Western New York Land Conservancy for recognizing the need to restore the gorge to its natural wonder. The removal of invasive species and the replanting of native species will go a long way toward fostering the long term health of the Gorge as well as opportunities for ecotourism."
City of Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster said, "This is a transformative time for the City of Niagara Falls with unprecedented growth not seen in many years taking shape before our very eyes thanks to Governor Cuomo and projects like the gorge restoration. Thanks to the efforts of the Western New York Land Conservancy, the Niagara Gorge will continue to enrich the visitor experience as one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems for many years to come."
As one of the most biologically diverse places on the Great Lakes, the Niagara Gorge is home to unique ecological communities, including many rare plants, and is part of a globally significant Important Bird Area. The lower Niagara River rapids are important spawning grounds for freshwater fish including threatened Lake Sturgeon. The health of this sensitive environment has been harmed by many factors, especially non-native invasive plants. The Land Conservancy has hired Applied Ecological Services to remove harmful invasive plants like Norway maple, common buckthorn, tree-of-heaven, and phragmites for the first phase of the project. These invasive species are being replaced with beneficial natives like oak trees, ninebark shrubs and Canada anemone.
The native red oak saplings given to children today by Lieutenant Governor Hochul were grown from locally-collected acorns at New York State Parks' Western Region Native Landscape Greenhouses at Knox Farms State Park. Gifting these Western New York native trees is symbolic of the region's growing commitment to careful stewardship of the earth and supporting Western New York natural landscapes.
The 'Restore the Gorge' project is the latest example of New York State's commitment to maximize the City of Niagara Falls' true potential as a world-class tourist destination. Other projects supported by the State include $70 million in recent renovations to Niagara Falls State Park; more than $73 million dedicated to the removal of underused expressway segments; multiple completed, in progress and planned hotel projects; the acquisition of a number of key underutilized properties within close proximity to Niagara Falls State Park for mixed-use development; and $172 million in public and private development in downtown Niagara Falls completed under Governor Cuomo with an additional $264 million in projects underway and proposed. 'Restore the Gorge' builds on the ecological and recreational improvements that will be gained through the removal of the Niagara Scenic Parkway.
During the multi-year project, there will be trail closures for the safety of visitors to this area in the Niagara Gorge. Trail closures will be temporary and intermittent while crews are working in areas that may cause rocks or debris to fall. These closures will only occur during daytime hours on weekdays and trails will not be closed on weekends. A list of closed trails can be found here.
About Western New York Land Conservancy
The Western New York Land Conservancy is a regional, not-for-profit land trust that permanently protects land with significant conservation value in Western New York for current and future generations. The Land Conservancy envisions a future in which open spaces, working lands, wildlife habitat, and scenic beauty are cherished and protected as part of the landscape and character of Western New York. The Land Conservancy is accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission and is one of 1000+ land trusts nationwide, including 90 in New York State. Land trusts have protected 56 million acres of land. For more information on upcoming events, volunteer opportunities, or the mission of the Land Conservancy, please call (716) 687-1225 or visit https://wnylc.org/.