Grant Leverages $19.1 Million in Total Investment, Including $4 Million from the State to Forge Major Connections to Empire State Trail
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced $6.4 million in grants from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, in addition to $4 million in state funding, which will support ongoing improvements to the Genesee Valley Greenway State Park and the Niagara Shoreline Trail in Western New York. The projects will help make key connections to the Empire State Trail. The not-for-profit Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation, created after the 2014 death of Wilson, the former owner of the Buffalo Bills and a co-founder of the American Football League.
"This support from the Wilson Foundation, coupled with new state funding, will help repair, enhance and expand recreational opportunities on these multi-use paths in two beautiful parts of western New York, which Ralph Wilson loved so much," Governor Cuomo said. "His legacy will strengthen tourism, increase safety for bicyclists and hikers, and further revitalize communities that are better connected."
"As an avid bicyclist, I know how important this significant funding will be as we continue our efforts to improve connections to the Empire State Trail," said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. "We are fortunate that Ralph Wilson's spirit lives on through generous philanthropic efforts. In celebrating his legacy, we are grateful to the Foundation's commitment towards our regional trail systems. These investments will expand recreational opportunities, and boost the tourism industry and economy of Western New York."
Both the Genesee Valley and Niagara projects will also strengthen significant connections to the Empire State Trail, a statewide project announced in January 2017 by Governor Cuomo. Scheduled to be completed by the end of 2020, the Empire State Trail will be a continuous 750-mile route spanning the state from New York City to Canada and Buffalo to Albany, creating the longest multi-use state trail in the nation.
Plans for the Genesee Valley Greenway, a 90-mile former canal towpath and railway bed in Monroe, Livingston, Wyoming, Allegany and Cattaraugus counties that has been a State Parks multi-use trail since 2011, call for $6.5 million in improvements.
Projects for the Genesee Valley Greenway being funded include:
- Complete resurfacing, infrastructure improvements and signage on 17 miles of trail from Rochester to the village of Avon in Livingston County.
- Disability access improvements at Greenway Bridge at Mt. Morris in Livingston County near Letchworth State Park.
- Partial resurfacing, as well as parking lot improvements, infrastructure and signage, between York Landing and the Abbey of the Genesee near the hamlet of Piffard in Livingston County.
- Creation of a strategic plan to identify further improvements along the rest of the Greenway, which passes through 16 towns in the five counties as it follows the corridor of the former Genesee Valley Canal and Pennsylvania Road.
- The Wilson Foundation is providing $2.5 million for the work, while State Parks is providing $2.5 million, and the New York State Transportation Department is providing $1.54 million.
The Greenway connects to the Empire State Trail at Genesee Valley Park in Rochester, and is used for snowmobiling, hiking, biking, horseback riding and cross-country skiing. The Wilson Foundation also has awarded an additional $2.5 million dependent on the state locating matching funds to be used to support further Greenway improvements identified in the strategic plan.
Administered by State Parks and the not-for-profit Friends of the Genesee Valley Greenway, the Greenway trail runs from Rochester to Hinsdale in Cattagaugus County. Along the way, the Greenway passes the village of Cuba in Allegany County, a center of the state's dairy industry that once billed itself as the Cheese Capital of the World.
Near Buffalo, four projects totaling $4.1 million are planned for the Niagara Shoreline Trail, including:
- One mile of new trail south of the village of Lewiston.
- A study on how to close gaps in the shoreline trail from Lewistown to Lake Ontario, and to evaluate how to repair an impassable section of the Niagara Gorge Trail known as the Talus Slope.
- Creation of a public outreach effort on implementation of construction on additional new trail sections in Lewiston.
- The Niagara Shoreline Trail will connect to the Empire State Trail in Niagara Falls.
The Wilson Foundation is providing a grant of $1.4 million to support this work, with another $2.7 million provided by the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, State Department of Transportation, the New York Power Authority, the Niagara River Greenway and the town of Lewiston.
New York State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid said, "This work being announced today will bring more people to western New York to use these trails, strengthening the local recreational economy, as well as adding even more vitality to Governor Cuomo's visionary Empire State Trail. Ralph Wilson cared deeply about this region, and his impact in our state through these trails will continue to benefit people for many years to come."
New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez said, "Building a 21st century transportation system that improves quality of life and promotes tourism and economic development is a core mission of the New York State Department of Transportation, which is why we are proud to be a part of Governor Cuomo's historic Empire State Trail initiative. The Genesee Valley Greenway State Park and the Niagara Shoreline Trail are natural treasures and these projects will make it easier for New Yorkers and visitors to our state to experience all that they have to offer."
NYPA President and CEO Gil Quiniones said, "As part of the 2007 relicensing of the Niagara Power Project, the New York Power Authority committed more than $450 million over 50 years to the Niagara River Greenway. This funding will help develop and enhance a linear system of state and local parks and conservation areas linked by a network of trails from the northern mouth of the Niagara River at Lake Ontario along the Niagara River to the City of Buffalo at Lake Erie. Working with partners like the Wilson Foundation and the Governor's office, we can more quickly fill in the gaps of those trails and broaden the vision of connecting trails for hikers and bicyclists across the State."
Empire State Trail Executive Director Andy Beers said, "This gift from the Ralph C. Wilson Foundation will help make both the Genesee Valley Greenway and the Niagara Shoreline Trail into even better attractions on the Empire State Trail. Their generous grant will provide Western New York with a trail system that will draw visitors and promote economic development."
Senator Patrick Gallivan said, "New York is blessed with some of the most beautiful parks and trails in the country. Thanks to the generous support of the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation and its partnership with New York State, residents will be able to enjoy the Genesee Valley Greenway and Niagara Shoreline Trail for years to come. By connecting communities and citizens along the Empire State Trail, we will increase recreational opportunities and support economic development across the state."
Senator Mike Ranzenhofer said, "I am pleased to see funds going to the Empire State Trail. Improving our Upstate infrastructure and enhancing the quality of life for our community is always a top priority."
Assembly Member Joseph M. Giglio said, "I am happy that these Empire State Trail connections will be completed, and that both the Niagara Shoreline Trail and the Genesee Valley Greenway Trail will receive infrastructure and access improvements. The enhancements to these trails will benefit individuals and communities across Western New York. I commend the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation for their willingness to invest in the wellbeing of our communities throughout the region."
Assembly Member Harry Bronson said, "I applaud Governor Andrew Cuomo, State Parks Commissioner Erik Kulleseid, and the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation for making these improvements possible. I believe that when the project is complete, it will create a safe, continuous multi-use trail that will be accessible to persons of all ages and abilities. This improved and fully continuous trail will offer and encourage more residents to engage in healthy physical activity; and with its connection to the Empire State Trail, attract more tourists to local communities and businesses."
Livingston County Board of Supervisors Chairman David LeFeber said, "These investments in the Genesee Valley Greenway Trail are much appreciated by the residents of Livingston County. The Greenway has a rich history and is well utilized by residents and visitors alike as people look to get outdoors and stay active in the Finger Lakes region. These improvements augment the capital infrastructure work taking place at the County's Al Lorenz Park, which adjoins the Greenway Trail in Mount Morris and includes several miles of new trails for outdoors enthusiasts to enjoy. "
Mount Morris Village Mayor Frank Provo said, "The Village and Town of Mount Morris, along with the Villages and Towns of Geneseo and Perry have created the Letchworth Gateway Villages to promote our area as an outdoor tourist destination. This is great news to know additional improvements are coming to the Greenway to help us in promoting the Genesee Valley as a great place for outdoor adventures."
Wilson Foundation President and CEO David O. Egner said, "The Genesee Valley Greenway is an incredible natural greenway that connects communities from Monroe to Cattaraugus Counties and has the potential to link two beautiful State Parks together in western New York. We're proud to support this important connection to the Empire State Trail, which will further improve the recreational, transportation and economic development opportunities for the many communities along the 90-mile State Park."
Director of Tourism and Marketing for the Livingston County Area Chamber of Commerce Elissa Russell said, "Continued investment in the development of our parks serve to enhance the quality of life in the region and contributes to the economic health of the region and its ability to attract and retain businesses. Continuously recognized as one of the healthiest counties in New York State, it is Livingston County's intent to promote the use of parks recreation and those activities that encourage a healthy lifestyle. The completion of this project will have a profoundly positive and lasting effect for the both the visitors and residents of Livingston County."
President of Friends of the Genesee Valley Greenway Joan Schumaker said, "What thrilling news! Thanks to the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation and Governor Cuomo for this major commitment to improving the historic Genesee Valley Greenway, one of the state's longest multi-use trails. An upgraded trail surface and infrastructure improvements are just what is needed for the Greenway to attain the standard of the Empire State Trail, attract additional trail visitors, contribute to economic activity in Greenway towns and villages, and encourage area residents of all ages and abilities to become regular Greenway users. We look forward to working together with all involved on this truly transformative project."
Co-Founder of Genesee River Wilds Allen Kerkeslager said, "One of our own group's major goals is to promoting appreciation for the Genesee sand New York State officials have begun to take on a greater role in achieving this goal."
Common Ground Health CEO Wade S. Norwood said, "As the health impact assessment of the Greenway documented, this gorgeous trail is already a shot in the arm for community wellness. Now, with these critical new upgrades, folks of all abilities will be able to access the Greenway for walking, biking and other activities proven to reduce chronic illness and improve mental health. We applaud the leadership and commitment of Governor Cuomo, the Wilson Foundation, the Genesee Transportation Council, Monroe County, State Parks and Friends of the Genesee Valley Greenway for making these enhancements possible."
Genesee Transportation Council Director James Stack said, "GTC was pleased to participate in the celebration of Ralph Wilson's 100th birthday in Buffalo this past October when the Ralph Wilson, Jr. Foundation announced a very significant investment in the health of Western New York by supporting opportunities for a more active lifestyle, especially among our youth. We are thrilled that the Rochester area is benefitting from the Foundation's generosity. Today's announcement will expand a recently-approved project to resurface a portion of the Genesee Valley Greenway that is consistent with our Regional Trails Initiative to promote active transportation. Additionally, the Genesee Valley Greenway was the subject of a recent study, in partnership with Common Ground Health, to assess the influence that health impacts can have on transportation planning. I am pleased to see many of the recommendations being incorporated into this project."
The Wilson Foundation grants will be made to the National Heritage Trust, which will support trail work to be done by the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
In September 2018, the Wilson Foundation launched a $200 million initiative to support parks and trails in western New York and southeastern Michigan, with funds to be split evenly between the regions. Half of New York's share was earmarked for rebuilding LaSalle Park in Buffalo, which is planned to be renamed Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Centennial Park, with the rest to be used for regional projects.
That same month, the foundation provided a $6.5 million grant for the Empire State Trail initiative in western New York for gateways, signage, kiosks, bike racks and other amenities between Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Rochester. That work also included 7.4 miles of Niagara Shoreline Trail to connect Niagara Falls to Tonawanda, as well as a new gateway and trail improvements at Devil's Hole State Park. The goal is to have the shoreline trail ultimately connect to the shorelines of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.
The Foundation's continued funding builds on New York State's $23 million investment to improve the Empire State Trail from Buffalo to Rochester, and to enhance outdoor recreation opportunities in the Niagara Gorge.
About the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation: The Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation is a grantmaking organization dedicated primarily to sustained investment in the quality of life of the people of Southeast Michigan and Western New York. The two areas reflect Ralph C. Wilson, Jr.'s devotion to his hometown of Detroit and greater Buffalo, home of his Buffalo Bills franchise. Prior to his passing in 2014, Mr. Wilson requested that a significant share of his estate be used to continue a life-long generosity of spirit by funding the Foundation that bears his name. The Foundation has a grantmaking capacity of $1.2 billion over a 20-year period, which expires in January 2035. This structure reflects Wilson's desire for the foundation's impact to be immediate, substantial, measurable and overseen by those who knew him best. For more information visit http://www.ralphcwilsonjrfoundation.org/.
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