Niagara Falls State Park is the oldest state park in the nation. The land along the spectacular sections where the Niagara River falls 167 feet to the gorge below was set aside as a park - a reservation, it was called - in 1885.
If you have been there in the past few years you know the park looks its age. With 8 million visitors a year, Niagara Falls State Park is subject to a tremendous amount of wear and tear and it simply was not kept up very well these past years.
We congratulated the state when $25 million was appropriated for a multi-year project that got under way earlier this year to restore, revitalize, update, fix, renovate and rebuild facilities and amenities in parts of the 400-acre park.
And now we add congratulations to Gov. Andrew Cuomo for the agreement his administration has negotiated with the family-run Maid of the Mist Corp. to continue operating boat excursions from the state park and for the park to receive increased revenue from it.
"The Maid of the Mist tours by the world-famous Niagara Falls waterfalls and of the Niagara River Gorge are a signature tourism attraction of Western New York," the governor said in announcing the agreement. "The agreement that the State of New York has reached with the Maid of the Mist for a winter boat storage location on the New York side of the falls will ensure that this Western New York corporation continues to bring great value to the region's tourism and economy, including increased revenues for State Parks. At the same time, the agreement provides for capital improvements for enhanced outdoor recreational attractions for the public's enjoyment, making this multidimensional accord a win-win for Niagara Falls State Park, the region and New York state."
Yes, it is exactly that.
Under the provisions of the new memorandum of understanding, the license payments from the Maid of the Mist to State Parks are projected to total $105 million over the 30 years remaining on the amended contract, a press release from the governor's office notes. That is three times larger than the revenues projected when the contract was initially approved in 2002.
The governor's office said that in 2014, the Maid of the Mist will pay a guaranteed $2.2 million minimum license payment to State Parks - nearly a 50 percent increase over the license payment of $1.47 million in 2011.
The fate of Niagara Falls State Park is of interest here in Chautauqua County because it is the foremost tourist attraction in all of Western New York. Our area benefits when the park prospers and so the agreement is good news here.
The $25 million being spent now will restore six of the park's 11 major areas: Luna Island, Three Sisters Islands, Stedman's Bluff, Terrapin Point, Prospect Point, and the Cave of the Winds Pedestrian Plaza.
Obviously, more will need to be done and what is being done now will need to be maintained.
With the extra revenue from the Maid of the Mist, the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation ought not have to ever let the park fall into such disrepair again.