(This 778th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on February 26, 2006.)
Lynda Schneekloth at the Niagara River
Photo by Ronald Colleran
Lynda Schneekloth is President of the Board of the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeepers. She spoke at the annual meeting of the Riverkeepers, formerly Friends of the Buffalo Niagara Rivers, on "Why the Greenway Should Be Green." Her talk was both impressive and extremely important. She has given me permission to quote from it extensively here. A few comments first.
You may question that talk title. What color should a greenway be? Sadly, there is a real possibility that the Niagara Greenway will be a drab combination of brown and gray. Why? Politics has entered the picture. The governor has appointed a Greenway Commission and there is already pressure, as Lynda notes, "to balance the environment against the economy."
What local citizen is not embarrassed by comparison of the New York State side of the Niagara River with the Ontario side. There you drive for 35 miles along parklands from just north of Fort Erie all the way to Niagara-on-the-Lake. Our side isn't quite like that. We do have a few stretches of parkland but even the bike path has to detour onto Buffalo city streets. Seen from the Canada and Grand Island, ours is one long stretch of run-down buildings, smoke-belching plants and the expressway.
Lynda knows all that, but she also knows that ours today is a nation in which businessmen hold the purse strings. She makes the case for a green Greenway in terms they should understand. The question remaining is: Will they understand or will they lead us down the same path that brought us to our current problems?
Here are some of Lynda's points:
· "If a region wants to attract taxpayers by attracting businesses, then it must invest in green spaces and other amenities that provide easy access to natural places and active recreation. One study demonstrates that the 'creative class' prefers to engage in recreation rather than remain spectators."
· "The recreation industry contributes approximately $2 billion annually to the Canadian economy through purchase of recreational goods and trail construction and maintenance. Our region is poised to take more advantage of this through the proposed Bass Pro development but we need to do more to develop our marine industry."
· "The green infrastructure contributes to water quality and quantity by absorbing rainfall, cleaning it, stabilizing soil and thus controlling erosion, reducing floods, and keeping storm water out of the sewage treatment system, in that way reducing direct contamination of our waters during storms. Buffalo and Lackawanna have 3,726 acres of tree canopy and 6,073 acres of blacktop. Even with only one-third tree cover, that canopy still provides 17.7 million cubic feet water storage during an average storm, saving an estimated $35.5 million."
"So what do we do?" Lynda asks and she answers her own question: "Buffalo spends about $9 per resident per year on parks. The average nationwide is $80, Seattle spends $214, Minneapolis $164, New York City $54."
Her ringing conclusion: "Let there be no confusion: the greens of the region contribute significantly to our economic health. Our shared interests are not marginal but tied to the health and well-being of all western New Yorkers.
"So we say again and again and again: let the greenway be green.
"Moreover, let that strip of greenway along the Niagara River have fingers that reach into our communities so that all people have good access to green spaces. Let these investments not only contribute to the health of the region, but to the wealth of the region as well."
Kudos to Lynda Schneekloth.-- Gerry Rising