Officials sign off on the Northern Niagara Regional Trail

·3 min read

Feb. 27—Local officials from municipalities across Niagara County came together Friday in an effort to connect a trail system that will ultimately link Lockport to Lewiston with a 35-mile multi-use path along the Lake Ontario shoreline.

The trail system will also connect into the Ontario Shoreline Trail and the Erie Canalway, as well as the Empire State Trail which runs across the entirety of New York state.

Some of the officials on hand to sign a memorandum of understanding were Mayor Anne Welch of Lewiston, Mayor Art Lawson of Wilson, Supervisor Jeffrey Dewart of Somerset, Supervisor Duffy Johnston of Porter, Deputy Mayor Mark Fox of Youngstown, Mayor Aaron Nellist of Barker, Superintendent Tim Carter of the Wilson School District, Alderman-At-Large Ellen Schratz of Lockport and Director Greg Stevens of the Niagara River Greenway .

"We're very excited to become partners with this Northern Niagara Regional Trail," Schratz said.

Lawson related to the crowd that the spirit of cooperation on this trail system reached back long before it became news.

"We've been working together for a couple of years in various groups," Lawson said. "We started off in a REDI convention, we did the Lake Ontario Preparedness Group — which as municipal leaders and partners we set up on our own — and we've worked together on various mutual beneficial projects for our communities."

Stevens said the significance of the project — which could take a decade to complete — is that it will connect the Empire State Trail system to what is being called the Northern Niagara Regional Trail.

"This is exactly the kind of development that New York state is looking for, and in fact, the signals that are coming from the federal administration is that they are very interested in investing in green infrastructure and active recreation," Stevens said. "People have realized through Covid how important park space and trails are, so we can get out and be socially distanced but still active and healthy."

Stevens made a short presentation in which he detailed the potential of bike trails statewide and how towns and villages in Niagara County could benefit through tourism revenue by connecting their own trail systems to the state wide trails.

"The Empire State Trail, which the governor declared complete on Dec. 31 of this year, is 750 miles of safe, off-road cycling suitable for families and foreign visitors," he said. "It's the longest, connected, continuous, off road trail system in the country. This is going to be visible from all over of Europe and all over Canada, there are millions of people who have this now on their bucket list. ... Imagine if they can ride from Manhattan to Niagara Falls with safe travel through this beautiful countryside?"

Stevens showed the crowd of officials a map of Western New York. He highlighted the Genesee Valley Greenway Trail, working its way to Rochester, the Southern Tier Trail which will follow an old railway to Buffalo, and the Empire State Trail.

"From our perspective, here in Niagara County, there's a big blank up here," he said, pointing to the area north of the Empire State Trail. "This is prime property here, this is waterfront. These are clean and attractive towns and villages. ... it would be a shame not to have that area connected to this network. That's the root of our proposal."

Officials were optimistic about the trail system, despite the lack of immediate funding. Stevens said such revenues could come at any moment, and that the signatures on the memorandum of understanding could show that these municipalities are ready with "shovels in the ground."

"I'm excited about what we're able to accomplish. There's a lot of things we can get done if we work together," Fox said.

"This memorandum of understanding focuses on building a healthy lifestyle, and also will strengthen our regional effort to improve our communities," Lawson said.

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