Urban Park Reprise


(This 1166th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on July 28, 2013.)


Dave at one of his Mason Bee Boxes


I drove down past the Buffalo Central Terminal recently to check on the progress Dave Majewski is making on his unique urban park, a triangular three-acre enclave bounded by Memorial Drive, Curtiss Street and the extension of Sweet Avenue.


Unique is the operative word here. Located a stone's throw from empty windowless trackside buildings and with the sounds of trains providing a constant noisy backdrop, this small private area in a blighted section of the city is unlike any of the city's public parks. The land is owned by the Central Terminal Restoration Corporation and Dave is upgrading it with not only their permission but their support as well. Other help has come from Daemen College and the University at Buffalo.


Although those surroundings remain as I described them on my first visit: "like the bombed out areas I visited in Europe at the end of World War II," this park will be among the stops on an August 3rd garden tour of the National Garden Festival in Buffalo. It is one of those designed to display, according to the festival literature, "where the community has worked with Mother Nature, not against her, in reclaiming the land." And indeed, this park is both provided for and engages the local community.


I'm sure, however, that most of my neighbors would not recognize Dave's Urban Habitat Project as a park. Hip-high grass is thick over most of the area except where cattails border a muddy seep, plants most of us consider weeds are everywhere and open paths are only now in construction.


But much has been done since I last visited two years ago. It was just a flat grassy area and I had to visualize Dave's projected future. Then Dave talked about things he hoped to accomplish: "an attractive and properly maintained tree-lined urban public green replete with interesting features: native wildflower plantings, wetlands and natural regeneration demonstration areas, and areas designed to attract resident and migrating birds."


I didn't find all those things completed, but I did find excellent progress and I like many of the changes.  Now the flatness that characterized the original site has been replaced by a significant undulation. Dave had to have huge boulders removed and the ground mounded by earthmovers to create this effect. The slight elevation difference produces a low area that fills in from storm sewer overflow. This is where those cattails now thrive; so too do a couple of salurians: an American toad and a green frog.


And no longer is this simply a meadow. Now wildflowers abound. Dave led me through it and, assuming wrongly that I knew what they represented, he rattled off a series of Latin botanical names. I just appreciated the bright yellows of daisies and the blues of chicory.


Dave doesn't like the chicory. "It's an alien," he commented, "and there's too much of it." Not for me. I love this ubiquitous wildflower with its delicate blue petals.


Among the bird and bat houses on the property are wooden blocks with many horizontal holes drilled into them. According to Dave, those are already serving solitary mason bees as home sites with the bees returning the favor by pollinating the wildflowers.


There are the usual city birds here too, including rock pigeons that must provide squab for the peregrine falcons nesting on the Terminal tower, but there are also barn swallows, chipping sparrows and even occasional pheasants and turkeys. I watched a woodchuck hump its way across the property and Dave has seen foxes and too many deer.


Much remains to be done, of course, and Dave estimates that it will take about two years to bring the area to a state requiring only light maintenance.


The Urban Habitat Project is only one of the sites that the August 3 Beyond Flowers Tour visits.  Stops are also set for the Michigan Avenue Project's indoor fish farm; P.U.S.H.'s environmentally conscious park and playground, as well as their 14th Street community garden; Mutual Riverfront Park overlooking the grain elevators; the Outer Harbor Project on Fuhrman Boulevard; the Broadway MarketŐs rooftop gardens; and finally the Buffalo Niagara Medical campusŐs bio-retention cell. 


Two other concluding National Garden Festival activities are also on August 3: afternoon and evening tours of Black Rock and Riverside gardens. For more information see nationalgardenfestival.com/walks/gardenwalks.asp. And for more about Dave's Urban Park Project, visit www.buffalocentralterminal.org.-- Gerry Rising