Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Press Release

May 04, 2023

(518) 486-1868 |

Niagara Falls State Park Welcome Center to Honor Ralph C. Wilson, Jr.

Welcome Center in Niagara Falls State Park to open this Summer 

Public-private partnership to be supported by $8 million grant from Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation 

View photos here 

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation and the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation announced today that the soon to open  $46 million state-of-the-art welcome center in Niagara Falls State Park will be named the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Welcome Center at Niagara Falls State Park. The Foundation has contributed $8 million toward the project. 

The grant from the not-for-profit Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, created after the 2014 death of Wilson, the former owner of the Buffalo Bills and a co-founder of the American Football League, continues Ralph Wilson's remarkable legacy of support for tourism, parks and outdoor recreation, trail development, and community revitalization in Western New York. 

"We are grateful to the ongoing support from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation not only for this project, but to their commitment to improving the quality of life for Western New Yorkers through the development of outdoor recreation opportunities and support of many cultural institutions. With Mr. Wilson's name on the building, I am certain that visitors to this park will be interested to learn more about him and the contribution he and this foundation have made to our community," said State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid. 

"It's an honor to have Ralph's name on this beautiful new world-class facility that will soon be a resource to the millions of visitors that arrive from all over the world to take in the majesty and wonder of Niagara Falls," said Mary Wilson, Life Trustee of the Ralph Wilson C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation. "When the new Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Welcome Center at Niagara Falls State Park opens its doors and welcomes folks from all walks of life, it will be a hub to both educate on the history of this national treasure and connect visitors to many opportunities for recreation along the Shoreline Trail, Niagara River Gorge and into the city of Niagara Falls, strengthening the area's growing tourism economy and enhancing the quality of life for areas residents." 

The new 28,000-square-foot visitor center will include new ticketing and information desks, interpretive museum space including an immersive experience and exhibits highlighting a diversity of topics including natural, industrial and Indigenous American history; new concession spaces; restrooms and associated support spaces. The glass, steel and concrete facility has been designed to complement nature and include a rooftop PV array, green roof elements and a separate restroom building. Enhanced site amenities include new accessible paths; plantings; outdoor exhibits, and interpretive and wayfinding elements. The existing 7,000-square-foot regional administration building immediately adjacent to the facility will be adapted to include a multi-purpose community room, regional archives and offices for Niagara regional interpretive staff.

The new facility will also serve as a gateway to adventure along the Niagara River Corridor, greatly improving the visitor experience, complementing nature, increasing the length of visits within the park in all four seasons, and enhancing awareness of nearby recreational and cultural offerings.

The building is being designed by GWWO, a national leader in visitor center development. Construction began in the fall of 2021 and will open later this summer. 

This project will complement the $150 million revitalization of Niagara Falls State Park landscape. Launched in 2011, the Niagara Falls State Park Landscape Revitalization Plan was a multi-year commitment to renew the park in a manner that better reflects noted park designer Frederick Law Olmsted's vision for the landscape. The plan renovated the park's major viewing areas including Luna Island, Prospect Point, Lower Grove, Three Sisters Islands, North Shoreline Trail, Luna Bridge, and Terrapin Point with new pedestrian walkways, enhanced landscaping, new benches, light posts and railings. The interactive Cave of the Winds pavilion, which highlights the natural and cultural history of Niagara Falls, opened in 2017. Removal of the Niagara Scenic Parkway (formally the Robert Moses Parkway) in the city of Niagara Falls  provides unprecedented access to the Niagara Gorge by connecting the city to its waterfront for the first time in a generation and is the largest expansion of Niagara Falls State Park since the creation of the park. 

Niagara Falls State Park is a state and national treasure. Created in 1885, it is the oldest state park in the nation, attracting over 9 million visitors annually.

The grant was managed on behalf of State Parks by the Natural Heritage Trust. The Natural Heritage Trust is a non-profit, public-benefit corporation with the mission to receive and administer gifts, grants and contributions to further public programs for parks, recreation, cultural, land and water conservation and historic preservation purposes of the State of New York. The NHT accomplishes its mission by accepting donations, raising funds, and through cooperative programs and projects with its agency partners: New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP), Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Department of State (DOS). For more information visit  

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation oversees more than 250 parks, historic sites, recreational trails, golf courses, boat launches and more, which were visited by a record 79.5 million people in 2022. For more information on any of these recreation areas, visit, download the free NY State Parks Explorer mobile app or call 518.474.0456. Also, connect on FacebookInstagram and Twitter.