I was at Paddles Up this weekend. For those who don’t know, Paddles Up is the canoe, kayaking, and rowing event at Beaver Island, which takes place the last weekend of July every year. It’s not only one of the best events on Grand Island, it’s one of the best events in Western New York. It’s totally free, everyone gets a t-shirt, and this year they even gave out a free beer!
A 93-year old River Keeper
I was so proud to take part again this year. And at the opening ceremonies, we heard from a very noble man: Frank Levin. Mr. Levin is 93-years old. He and Paul Leuchner were the catalysts for a conservation movement that has gone a long way into restoring the Niagara River. It started at Strawberry Island, 25 years ago, when Mr. Levin donated his personal money to save the little island that plays a big role in our ecosystem.
Strawberry Island protects Motor Boat Island, Goat Island, and even Grand Island. It slows down the current, which prevents erosion and allows all of the birds and other forms of wildlife a place to live.
On Strawberry Island today you can see American Bald Eagles nesting. But before Mr. Levin and Mr. Leuchner, that island was full of beer cans, party tents; someone actually built a canal down the middle of it to rest his feet in.
Where we are headed
We are still at the very beginning of a 25-year plan to restore and protect the Niagara River green (and blue!) way. The West River Project will be an important part of that. That’s why so many conservationists (including Mr. Leuchner and Mr. Levin) support it. That’s why the Greenway supports it. That’s why I support it.
More than ever, on Grand Island we are doing our part. Specifically, working with the New York State Land Conservancy, we have secured funds to permanently protect the old-growth forest near the Nike Base. Most of you have never been back there, but it’s full of oaks, maples, and vernal pools.
Since I have been Supervisor, we have secured and protected hundreds and hundreds of green space. That is a fact. If you include the West River and Scenic Woods (which we restored) into that calculation, the amount of protected space is truly vast.
This story has not gotten enough attention. But space once salted for development is now protected forever. That means much of Grand Island will stay largely green—FOREVER. We can’t stop all the building, but the era of unfettered construction is over. Just a little more than a year and a half ago, our town was headed full steam into an era of overdevelopment. We will build some homes, but the days of giving in to bad development is over. We are on a new path—literally.
Help me continue the journey
There is much more to do. I want to acquire space for the ferry permanently—imagining taking a Friday night trip to Tonawanda and you have your ride home. I also want to help make East River safer for kids. And I remain committed to stopping trapping near our parks and trails. But these things take time. And unless the community (and board) is with me, they will never happen.
We can’t give into suspicion, rumor, and noise. We all know that some remain upset about West River, especially those who feel a possessive interest in that space. But I remain hopeful that they will be excited for the change once it is complete. And I pray daily that they will understand the key part that West River will play in the larger plan to protect and preserve our environment.
What we don’t need is the reckless allegations. Just because you disagree with someone or oppose a decision, there is no need to try and attack and discredit them. I know the good people who are working on the West River project. They are kind, well-reasoned, and thoughtful. And I have learned much from them. I’ve learned about calmness in the face of criticism and tolerance even when confronted with confusion and falsehoods. Or put differently, I’ve learned not to jump out of my chair so much, even when I’m wronged.
Of course, I have a long way to go. And our Island has a long way to go. But I’m trying to be more like the 93-year old Mr. Levin. What a kind and good man. Even the timber of his voice reminds one of the flow and harmony of the river itself. If makes me remember that things take time. And it makes me know to never give up, even when the ceaseless current of time tries to erode my resolve.
Supervisor Nate McMurray