WHITE PLAINS—The New York Power Authority (NYPA) announced today that it received the Outstanding Stewards of America’s Waters (OSAW) Award at the National Hydropower Association’s (NHA) annual conference and luncheon in Washington, D.C. The accolade marks the fifth time that NYPA has received an OSAW award—more times than any of the NHA’s nearly 200-member organizations and affiliates.
The Power Authority received the OSAW award in the category of Recreational Environmental and Historical Enhancement for its Great Gorge Railway Trail Stone Stairway, a major installation that connects existing hiking trails at the top and bottom of the Niagara Gorge.
“This prestigious national award highlights the Power Authority’s continuing involvement in enhancing the tremendous recreational and natural resources of the Niagara River Gorge area,” said John R. Koelmel, NYPA chairman. “The Power Authority Trustees and executive management are proud of the talented staff responsible for the development of the stone stairway project, and as a Western New Yorker, I’m looking forward to making use of this attraction in the years ahead.”
“This great new trail project is very exciting to me, because it’s in my neighborhood. When I was growing up, there was great fishing near the base of the Whirlpool Bridge. Our method of getting there was to climb over the edge of the Gorge on a steel cable and go down an informal trail,” said Paul Dyster, mayor, City of Niagara Falls. “The new stone stairway helps open up safe and convenient access to the Niagara Gorge so it can now be enjoyed by all. Thanks to New York Power Authority Chairman John Koelmel and all the staff members who helped make it happen!”
NYPA Licensing Manager Steve Schoenwiesner spearheaded the stairway installation, which was completed with virtually no disturbance to the surrounding ecology.
“Being recognized by the NHA for the beautiful addition of the stone stairway to the Niagara River Gorge is quite an honor,” said Schoenwiesner. “The award symbolizes NYPA’s continuing commitment to the environment and we are proud to have provided enhanced recreational access to this wonderful natural resource.”
In undertaking this challenging installation, hand-cut, dry-laid stone steps were manually rigged into the gorge and placed along the steep slope over rugged terrain. The end result is an elegant structure that provides safe and easy access to a spectacular natural setting for hikers to enjoy. In designing the stairway, maintaining the natural beauty of the gorge surroundings was key, along with adapting it for safe recreational use by non-hikers.
The connection between the two trails now provides another beautiful recreational site to attract more tourists and visitors to Niagara Falls. The improvement was made possible through a relicensing agreement between NYPA and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (NYSOPRHP) for the 2007 relicensing of the Niagara Hydroelectric Power Plant in Lewiston. To date, that agreement has resulted in more than $208 million in environmental and economic development benefits to Western New York.
The Great Gorge Railway Trail Stone Stairway project was done in collaboration with State Parks.
“NYPA’s investment and installation of the stone stairs and walkways into the gorge allow this treasure to become even more accessible to those looking for an experience of a lifetime,” said Rose Harvey, NYSOPRHP Commissioner. “The improvements to the trails at Whirlpool were not only long overdue but sorely needed. NYPA’s interest and willingness to accept and guide this project has added a priceless value to this already amazing resource.”
The Gorge, which offers spectacular scenic views both from along its rim and from the edge of the rushing river below, had been greatly underused by the public due to its steep, rugged terrain and lack of user-friendly access. The two 1.26 mile hiking trails that run along the gorge rim and alongside the Niagara River both start from a common parking area, but were previously not connected. Hikers wishing to experience both trails were forced to retrace their paths—thus doubling the length of their trip.
The newly installed recreational enhancement now provides a connection between the upper and lower trails that forms a hiking loop. The end result is an exceptionally beautiful, easy to hike path and stairway and an improvement that is sure to increase its appeal among hikers, tourists and nature lovers alike.