2013-10-03 / Front Page

Extensive improvements continue in Erie County parks

by JENNIFER WATERS
Reporter


Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, right, and Troy Schinzel, the county’s commissioner of Parks, Recreation and Forestry, discuss improvements to Erie County parks during a press conference in Chestnut Ridge Park last week. The two were joined by Erie County Legislator John Mills and members of the Chestnut Ridge Park Conservancy. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, right, and Troy Schinzel, the county’s commissioner of Parks, Recreation and Forestry, discuss improvements to Erie County parks during a press conference in Chestnut Ridge Park last week. The two were joined by Erie County Legislator John Mills and members of the Chestnut Ridge Park Conservancy. Identifying county parks as an asset for the community, several groups have been working to ensure their preservation for future generations.

In a press conference held at Chestnut Ridge Park in Orchard Park, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz assessed the major work being done in the park system, particularly in seven parks.

Looking forward to 2014 capital projects, Poloncarz, along with the commissioner of Parks, Recreation and Forestry, Troy Schinzel, and Erie County Legislator John Mills, reflected on the progress made since 2012.

The extensive improvements and renovations done in the county parks, beaches and golf courses amounted to $4.48 million in 2012-13 in spending on capital projects. As of now, $2.55 million has been approved for 2014 projects.

“My administration has placed a high priority on improving and enhancing our county parks to give residents the natural spaces they deserve and expect,” Poloncarz said. “With our ongoing investments, we are fulfilling the promise I made to improve the conditions of these tremendous public assets.”

In addition to Chestnut Ridge Park, the past year’s improvements have been most significant in Akron Falls, Black Rock Canal, Como Lake and Emery parks; Elma Meadows and Grover Cleveland golf courses; and Wendt Beach.

As for 2014 projects, some of the top priorities for improvement are the historic Wendt Beach Mansion and Emery Park, which is considered by Poloncarz, Schinzel and Mills to be in the worst shape of all the parks in the county system.

Poloncarz said that so far, all the work done to the mansion has been to board it off and bring in contractors to evaluate the condition of the structure and estimate costs of all necessary repairs.

“It’s going to be a significant amount of money,” he said.

The concern with starting a project of this magnitude among those involved is the possibility of turning the project around to immediately start bringing in revenue for the government.

“It’s one of those tough decisions. We just don’t want to spend the money without having something to give back,” Poloncarz said.

In contrast, work on Emery Park is being seriously evaluated for further improvements, beyond what has already been done in 2012 and 2013.

Poloncarz said 2012 was used to fully analyze all the work needed in the park.

Starting this month, work will begin to replace the Emery culvert after age and condition issues warranted the full replacement of the culvert and only road to the ski lodge located within the park. Additionally, Shelter 12, which had a tree fall on it in 2012 and was taken out of service, will be rebuilt as a new structure using the existing Works Progress Administration-era stonework of the shelter.

“What we wanted to do was make sure we made our parks safer and more enjoyable now by investing in the infrastructure that for many years unfortunately have not seen much of any investment,” Poloncarz said.

With this focus, most work has included repairing and maintaining roadways and parking lots within the parks, updating electrical systems, repairing or replacing roofs on shelters, updating plumbing to parks and restrooms, and repairing walkways, stairs and railings.

Poloncarz attributes the partnership between the Department of Public Works and the Parks Department with making improvements possible on a large scale. Without this partnership, he said it would cost the county millions of dollars to get the work done through private contractors.

“We would not be as far along as we are without the cooperation and assistance of the Department of Public Works, along with the tremendous work of Parks staff on many of the locations,” Schinzel said. “The commitment from the administration has been instrumental in allowing us to continually make these much-needed repairs to our shelters, buildings, comfort stations, bridges, roads, parking lots and more.”

Given the more than 300 structures and many miles of roads, Schinzel added that he was proud of the amount of work the current system in place has done to continually make necessary improvements in the parks.

At Chestnut Ridge, the in-house staff has replaced roofs, fixed parking lots and improved conditions at five of the shelters that most needed work. They have also brought much of the park up to the level it needed to be with the funds allocated annually.

“It’s not easy,” Schinzel said. “Our staff has done a tremendous job at improving this location.”

Along with the Parks and Public Works departments, the Chestnut Ridge Conservancy has been working to improve its park.

According to founding trustee Ronald Michnik, the conservancy is currently working to solicit funds to finish mural repair and preservation in the park.

“We’ve acquired enough to finish the skier on the main floor and inside concession area with foxes and next will be to finish the one with the cabin and deer on the lower half of the main floor,” he said.

He said the group met with state Sen. Mark Grisanti about additional funds for its projects but will not know if money will be allocated until the 2014 budget is approved.

During this meeting, the members discussed the possibility of future projects.

“Many things we had in the park in the past have been lost,” Michnik said.

Among the proposed ideas were improving and rededicating the baseball diamond, converting the tennis court for skating in the winter, and the grand finale, possibly acquiring portable snow-making equipment for tobogganing on the hill.

“It may be a pipe dream, but it is something [Grisanti] was quite excited about,” Michnik said.

Other 2012 improvements through capital projects included work on Bennett Beach and in Ellicott Creek Park.

“While there is more work to do, the last two years are proof that we are headed in the right direction in our parks system,” Schinzel said.

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