Voices of Niagara: Angela Berti, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Angela Berti
Angela Berti, Marketing and Public Affairs Coordinator, New York Office of State Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, interviewed at Prospect Point, Niagara Falls State Park on 10th April, 2018 © Alan Gignoux

The Niagara Falls State Park is in the city of Niagara Falls, New York, on the American-Canadian border. It lines the Niagara River near the Falls on the American side and incorporates the American Falls, the Bridal Veil Falls and a portion of the Horseshoe Falls, as well as Goat Island.  The State Park is a separate entity from the city of Niagara Falls, New York, and is managed by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.  

“Niagara Falls State Park was founded in 1883 by the leaders of New York State.  At that time in Niagara Falls State Park, all along the river were industries that were using the water to create power, so as a result of that, there was no public access to see the beautiful Falls.  The leaders of our state found that to be unacceptable – so they came up here and they took this land through eminent domain from the city of Niagara Falls, and they created what is Niagara Falls State Park today.  It was finally opened in 1885 as a State Park and it’s been operating ever since.  It’s completely free to enter this park and see the Falls – that was one of the founding principles – and so you can come in today for no money at all and see the Falls.

The main principle about the conservation of this park involved keeping it as natural as possible.  We went from one extreme to the other, where the Falls were being used to create power in one of the most beautiful places on earth, and so the thought process was, “Let’s bring it back to that.”  And I think they did a pretty good job.  Frederick Law Olmsted was a renowned American landscape architect, who came here and took a look around, and he left some ideas – he didn’t necessarily design this park, but the design is inspired by him, and that’s a big deal to us, and that’s what we’re trying to go back to, even today.

In the last six or seven years here in New York State we’ve been bringing that vision back.  Over time it’s kind of gotten diluted, and some of the materials that have come into the park, in terms of benches and garbage cans and those kinds of things have moved away from that historical Frederick Law Olmsted influence, and so we’re trying to bring a lot of that back.  We’re bringing native plantings back into the park, and really trying to bring the park back to a uniform, peaceful place to visit.

That contrasts with what we see over in Canada, where they’ve been focusing on this big city, razzle dazzle tourism industry for quite some time now, and we find that it offers people the best of both worlds, where they can come here to the Niagara Falls State Park, be immersed in nature, be right up close next to the rapids and the river, and then go over to Canada and see the beautiful wide view of the Falls and maybe experience some of the excitement of what they focus on over there.

About 50 years ago when the industries started leaving Niagara Falls, USA, we believed that they would come back some day, so we treaded water, deciding what we were going to do until that happened.  At that same time the Canadians were determining that tourism was their future and that’s why you see the disparity between the two cities.  Here in Niagara Falls, New York, we get 8 or 9 million people per year that come to see the Falls and at the end of that experience they are looking for things to do, so we’re really working closely with the city of Niagara Falls, to try to get people out of the park, to spend more time in the city.  It’s a great place, there are wonderful restaurants, there’s a culinary institute, there are other attractions – you could spend days in this area, just enjoying the other attractions.  And so we are working as a community, almost for the first time, to develop that infrastructure and make sure that people that are coming here to see the Falls are aware of the other things to do.

We’re trying to gracefully find our footing, in between the commercialisation of this park and the expectations of tourists, and maintaining the beauty.  It’s a pretty fine line that we are walking, and it also contributes to our relationship to the city of Niagara Falls, where we don’t want to over offer opportunities to eat and to shop, when that can also be going on in the city.

Niagara Falls is where my family is from, and so when I got the job here I remember telling my grandfather and he was over the moon.  He worked for a construction company that built a lot of the stuff here, the Tower and the Rainbow Bridge and the Aquarium, so there’s this history of my family that is here, which makes it even more special to me.  I say a lot of times that people save money their entire lives to come here, to what we have in our back yard, here in western New York, and we take that for granted too often – slowly but surely we’re turning that around.”

This is an extract.  The full interview will soon be available on video on You Tube.

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