Erie County Parks: 3


(This column was first published in the June 23, 2003 issue of The Buffalo News.)


On a number of visits to Minneapolis I had the opportunity to walk and bike the trails that circle some of the city's lakes - including the evocative Lake Minnehaha. While I was doing so, the same question occurred to me several times: "Why can't we have paths like these in Buffalo?"


What I completely failed to realize is that we DO have trails that are every bit as attractive as those of that oft-touted city. I spent a day following a substantial segment of our suburban and urban trails on a recent outing and found them quite extraordinary.


I began this tour in Amherst just north of the intersection of Maple and North Forest. I thought that this first trail section would be thoroughly familiar to me as I used to bike it on my way to the university. However, while it retains its pastoral quality, passing between the wooded shores of Ellicott Creek and some open grasslands, now additional trees have been planted, each dedicated to some individual by an attractive plaque. In one area there is even a flag-enhanced section that will soon become an attractive grove.


This trail continues west for five miles along the creek, for much of that way winding along the north edge of the University at Buffalo's Amherst campus. During the migration this spring, Jim Pawlicki found over a hundred species of birds along this section and I found myself stopping every few hundred feet to listen to another oriole or to watch a spotted sandpiper fluttering along the creek bed.


At Niagara Falls Boulevard the trail enters Ellicott Creek County Park, an urban setting designed mostly for picnicking and family sports. Founded over 75 years ago, this park shows its age gracefully with its many large shade trees.


I could have followed another trail extension back into Amherst north along Tonawanda Creek for several miles, but I chose instead to continue west through Tonawanda along the Erie Canal pathway. (To serve the canal's lock system Tonawanda Creek is reversed in this section to flow east.)


When I emerged from the Canalway at the Niagara River, I found an open world with broader vistas. Breezes off the wide river dropped the temperature a half dozen degrees and I had to zip up my jacket.


Now I was on the part of the trail that would take me south all the way through Tonawanda and Buffalo almost to Lackawanna.


I cannot speak too highly of this trail. Most of the way to Squaw Island it passes through a narrow park squeezed against the river by the Niagara Thruway Section. While gulls, cormorants and terns flew by on my right, songbirds sang from the shrubbery to my left.


There is a confusing narrow corridor at the state canal lock and after Squaw Island the path retreats briefly to follow Niagara Street. But possibly because of the intervening highway along the rest, I had no sense of being so close to the downtown section of a major city.


After LaSalle Park the trail passes among the attractive grounds of the river apartments and on to the marina and the naval park. From there it seems to continue only in fits and starts. I was able to make my way mostly along city streets across the Buffalo River and as far as Tifft Nature Preserve.


Including my side trip across the Grand Island Bridge to Beaver Island State Park this expedition took me 45 miles. It satisfied me that we here in Erie County surpass Minneapolis' trails in both length and quality.-- Gerry Rising