In the News ...

Create A ‘Tecumseh National Park’ Right Here Along The Lakeshores Of Niagara
JOHN BACHER, Niagara at Large, March 23, 2010

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Sprawling Greenlands In Niagara-on-the-Lake Should Be Site Of An Eco-Park – Not A Music Festival

RANDY BUSBRIDGE, Niagara At Large, February 24, 2010
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Opening up the waterfront
MATTHEW VAN DONGEN, St. Catharines Standard, December 15, 2009
Local leaders are searching for ways to provide more public access to Niagara's waterfront, including buying shoreline on both Great Lakes.

The Region began working this month on a Lakefront Enhancement Strategy designed to make it easier for residents to reach and use Niagara's 117 kilo-metres of waterfront.
Niagarans are virtually surrounded by water, including two Great Lakes and the Niagara River, but public ownership is limited and "access is uncertain at best," according to a recent report presented to regional council.

"My personal view is that there is room for more public ownership of our lakeshores," said Regional Chairman Peter Partington, who is championing the planned strategy to municipal mayors. "Every resident should have access to clean beaches, for example... but public access, in whatever form, is the goal."

The Region has set aside $1 million for potential land purchases, "but it doesn't have to be land acquisitions," said Patrick Robson, commissioner of integrated community planning. "There are many opportunities to bring lakefront property into the public realm."

Trails, municipal right-of-ways, hydro corridors and conservation easements are just a few of the less pricey options the Region and local municipalities can explore, Robson said.

The Region expects consulting firm OEB Enterprise to conduct phase one of the strategy, including developing a set of "guiding principles and goals" that may include:
-Increasing public ownership of waterfront lands.
-Establishing lakefront uses that benefit the most people.
-Protecting the shoreline environment.
-Preserving shoreline heritage.

There's plenty of work to do. The Region doesn't yet have an inventory of public or publicly accessible waterfront land in Niagara. Regional planner Ken Forgeron has estimated about 35 per cent of the Lake Ontario Waterfront Trail through Niagara is actually on the water.

In St. Catharines, city staff estimate about half of the waterfront is in municipal hands.

Wallace Reid and his wife Mavis were out enjoying some of it Monday, strolling along the lakeside trail in Westcliffe Park.

Reid, 88, is a big fan of the trails in the north end of the city.

"It seems like they're constantly building new ones," said the regular trail walker, pointing in particular to the newly opened Port Weller spit trail.

"That's one of the nicest walks along the lake you'll find anywhere. You won't find any better."

Partington said the region as a whole has some wonderful beaches and trails. But in the past, Partington said, local governments "may have taken the lakeshore for granted."

He also pointed to "missed opportunities" to make lake access easier for residents.

For example, the Region was asked to buy a rare old-growth forest in Fort Erie, Marcy's Woods, several years ago, but it was sold instead to a private developer. The Region also tried and failed to buy the former Easter Seals camp in Wainfleet.

In future, Partington said, he hopes the Region and local cities and towns can agree on a "waterfront vision" that will help guide potential land acquisitions.

The Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority has a lands acquisition strategy, but it doesn't focus particularly on waterfront property, said agency head Tony D'Amario.

D'Amario said the authority supports the fledgling regional strategy and expects to play a role in its development.

"Considering the amount of waterfront we have, there aren't that many places for public access, especially on Lake Erie," he said.

There are looming opportunities to reconnect residents with the Great Lakes.

The NPCA is just beginning to develop land in Jordan Harbour for trail-walkers and canoeists, for example.

Hundreds of acres of federally owned lakefront property in Niagara-on-the-Lake, off-limits for decades, may be opened to the public in the near future, too. The former military property is the proposed location for a controversial new music festival and amphitheatre. Local residents have countered with a proposal to turn the land into an eco-park.

Partington said one way or another, that stretch of lake-shore "has the potential to become more open to public use."

A preliminary staff report on the initiative is expected to come to regional council early in the new year.

In the meantime, a budget of about $20,000 is expected to give the consulting firm a head start gathering information.

Partington and several waterfront mayors will meet Wednesday to talk about the strategy.

Tranquility threatened, residents tell forum
JAMES BRADSHAW, Globe and Mail, July 27, 2009
For the first time, residents of Niagara-on-the-Lake engaged in a full-scale public debate on Project Niagara. Last week's meeting (which lasted a vigorous four hours) was the first of several such forums as the proposed music festival takes shape - and as the community decides whether to embrace it.

New details unveiled to the public by project organizers may have won over some fence-sitters. But there remains a determined cadre of locals who would prefer not to see the proposed 17-week, 50-concert summer music festival come to town each summer.

Nearly 300 people packed the gymnasium of a public high school to hear presentations from Project Niagara's brass and to raise their concerns, a format that will be repeated every three to four months while the event is being debated.

Residents remain divided on the plan. The Harmony Residents Group, which counts some 600 members, has been vocal in its opposition. But while their members, and other detractors, dominated the forum, a newly formed group of supporters, Community Builders, recently attracted nearly 400 people to their inaugural meeting.

Kari Cullen, Project Niagara's manager, assured last week's assembly that the festival "intends to be a good neighbour" and trumpeted the allure of a world-class music festival in Canada. But the primary focus of the evening was a traffic study commissioned by Project Niagara and executed by Ontario-based international consultants Delcan, which dominated the question-and-answer period.

Residents repeatedly questioned the accuracy and scope of the study's findings. Project manager Nick Palomba remained adamant that the calculations are based on "worse than worst-case" assumptions.

Doug Stewart of Parks Canada, meanwhile, answered a proposal from the Harmony Group to turn the federally-owned 108.5-hectare site targeted for the festival into an eco-park instead. He said Project Niagara would be the catalyst for improving and opening up the land, closed to the public for decades, and it's unlikely the government would invest in the site without it. (Parks Canada is studying how to use the 80 hectares not occupied by Project Niagara.) For his part, Project Niagara architect Bruce Kuwabara - who also designed the nearby Jackson-Triggs winery - tried to spur the crowd to look to the town's future. "It's a great town, and it's changed. History doesn't freeze dry. This place is dynamic," he said.

Yet Gracia Janes, a member of the Niagara-on-the-Lake Conservancy, wasn't sold: "Where can we all get these rose-coloured glasses," she asked, wondering aloud what it would take for organizers to abandon their plans.

Many other residents at the meeting made impassioned pleas about the intrusions they suffer at the hands of the town's other tourist attractions, drawing applause.

But one onlooker was disappointed with the questioning. "A small town at its worst," he said. "I haven't heard one word about vision."

The National Arts Centre and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra joined forces five years ago to create Project Niagara, which would feature the NAC and TSO as well as other international orchestras, jazz, blues, pop, opera and world music acts. The festival would need $76.5-million in capital funding and would operate on a $20-million annual budget raised from its own revenues and the private sector.

The federal and provincial governments have yet to decide whether to grant $25.5-million each in capital funding.

Ecopark pitched over music festival for NOTL site
Posted By Suzanne Mason Special to The Standard
Posted May 26, 2008

NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE — An ecopark has been proposed as an alternative to a large-scale music festival on Parks Canada land in Niagara-on-the-Lake to attract tourists year-round and more young families to the area.

Harmony Residents Group spokesman Randy Busbridge told town council Monday that the Lakeshore Road site is ideal for an ecopark with its unique history and natural resources.
“Niagara-on-the-Lake needs such a park,” he said. “We are one of the most deforested towns in the province. We have limited waterfront access.”

Busbridge said an ecopark would help protect the natural resources on the property and stimulate education, research and rehabilitation efforts. “The shoreline is eroding, wetlands and creeks need rehabilitation, forests need enhancement and habitats must be preserved,” he said.

Busbridge said the town could capitalize on a rapidly growing green tourism market since nature and heritage are the main reasons that people visit the Niagara region. He also said provincial studies show that these visitors stay longer, spend more money and tend to visit year-round.

Busbridge says his group envisions a modest building that would feature an interpretive centre, information kiosks and a public meeting space similar to the facilities at Balls Falls.

“Our goal would be to minimize the human footprint with controlled access to sensitive areas,” he said, adding that capital and operating costs would be minimal.

Potential sources of revenue identified by the group are partnerships with educational institutions and conservation groups, fundraising, facility rental and public memberships. Busbridge said expansion could be tied to education and research projects.

He said an ecopark would benefit the community as a whole, complement existing attractions and stimulate new business opportunities.

“The development of a similar park in Annapolis, Maryland actually attracted young families to the area,” he added.

Busbridge said a non-profit foundation could be established to run the park in partnership with Parks Canada. He said his group has approached Parks Canada with its proposal and has been asked to develop more concrete plans.

Coun. Jack Lowrey asked Busbridge if he thought there would be room for both a music festival and an ecopark on the property.

“The other proposal is more invasive. We’re presenting this as an alternative,” he said to loud applause from the public gallery.

Project Niagara, a partnership between the National Arts Centre Orchestra and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, hopes to build a $50-million amphitheatre and attract 250,000 visitors to shows from June to September.

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