Times Beach


(This column was first published in the February 3, 2003 issue of The Buffalo News.)


Dear Mayor Masiello,


As a senior politician, you are beset daily with fractious confrontations over problems that divide your constituents. No matter what side you come down on you lose favor with the opposing camp and that opposition can be very vocal. You have, I observe, just come through several of those battles.


But there are occasionally opportunities for you to respond to problems for which there is no downside. Everyone, even some of your most formidable opponents, is for them. I write now to urge you to take action on one of those problems that has dragged on for three decades.


I write about Times Beach.


Times Beach is, as you know, a small only 50 acre parcel on the Buffalo waterfront just south of the coast guard station.


What you may not realize, however, is that this is a remarkable birding area, especially during spring months. Then northward migrants reach the shore of Lake Erie and most, discouraged by the open water over which ever-alert predatory gulls hover, fly northeast along its shore. Their numbers increase as they move toward Buffalo. Tired now, they find the woodland and pond of Times Beach with only urban areas ahead. Songbirds drop into the welcoming trees. Ducks and shorebirds gather on the pond.


Birders have long known of this area. Every year I join hundreds of them there, seeking out the rarities among the many migrants. The canopy overhead is filled with rose-breasted grosbeaks, scarlet tanagers and vireos. Woodpeckers and nuthatches patrol tree trunks. Warblers, thrushes and wrens haunt the shrubbery and sparrows patrol underfoot. Farther out the pond boasts scaup, wigeon, teal and pintails. Above them hover terns and swallows. Along the shore dowitchers and other sandpipers are overseen by stately herons and egrets. Among the reeds rails and moorhens skulk. An amazing 225 bird species has been recorded there.


It is a wonderful spot.


But seeing those birds is not easy. You must climb over downed trees and push through dense thickets, all the time tripping over discarded debris and sinking into deep pockets of mud. The place is a mess.


The educational opportunities this area offers are obvious, but I would hesitate to take a youngster there.


Now you have before you plans to upgrade Times Beach with a few trails and boardwalks and a couple of pond overlooks. The planning has been done. The Corps of Engineers is on board. The funding is in place. And, as my southern sister-in-law says, everybody and their dog wants this project finally to move forward. The list of supporters is virtually endless: Adirondack Mountain Club, League of Women Voters, Buffalo Audubon and Ornithological Societies, Friends of the Buffalo and Niagara Rivers, Sierra Club and Great Lakes United among them. People have worked on this for years.


I note here only a few I know personally: Paul MacClennon, Bob Andrle, Jim Smith of your office, George Arthur of the Common Council, Mike Hamilton, Ellen Gibson and Art Klein.


What is needed is action and I understand, Mr. Masiello, that Representative Quinn has nominated you as quarterback for this project.


I urge you to work with Paul and his colleagues to choose one of the baseline designs put forward by the Corps last summer. Then get construction underway. This is not a big undertaking and it cries out to be accomplished.


And, I submit once again, getting this done is for once a no-lose project. You can only gain in stature by showing how your office can step forward.


Finally, it can serve as one of your legacies for the next generation.-- Gerry Rising