New kayak launch and bike path extension unveiled along the Erie Canal in North Tonawanda

New kayak launch and bike path extension unveiled along the Erie Canal in North Tonawanda Image

Steve Spyra returns to the newly opened kayak launch in North Tonawanda at the foot of Niagara at Sweeney Street shortly after it was officially opened with a ceremony Wednesday May 18, 2016. (John Hickey/Buffalo News) 

By Nancy Fischer

NORTH TONAWANDA – On a beautiful Wednesday, city and state leaders cut the ribbon on a new kayak launch and bike path extension at Niagara and Sweeney streets.

The developments meet the city’s commitment to a growing number of people many who want to take advantage of the warmer weather through walking, biking and kayaking. The new launch is one of three kayak docks in this historic lumber port on the Erie Canal and upper Niagara River.

“We’re so fortunate here,” Mayor Arthur G. Pappas said. “We can see every type of watercraft from yachts to tugboats to canoes, kayak and even pedalboats.”

“And, you can tell by the smiles that we can’t wait for summer,” he added.

Lumber City Development Corp. administered more than $289,000 in grants for the bike path, with half coming from the New York State Canal Corp. Half of the $142,000 cost of design and construction of the three Erie Canal kayak launches came through the state Environmental Protection Fund, with the city providing the other half of the funding for both projects through in-kind services.

Steven Spyra of North Tonawanda, who has been kayaking for more than 20 years, said he has seen the sport grow, recalling when he was the only person out on the water. Spyra, a member of the city’s Waterfront Commission, was part of the steering committee to bring the new roller-dock launches to the canal.

“This is a luxury for me,” Spyra said of the kayak launch. “I wanted this for all the people who bought a kayak and thought it was going to be great and then realized they have to walk into the muddy canal to launch.”

A roller dock also at the Botanical Gardens allows kayakers to make their way into the water thanks to rollers on the dock.

He said the improved access will serve as a boon for kayakers and those considering the sport.

“I want the kayak community to explode even more than it has,” said Spyra.

A third city kayak dock – one without rollers – is at Gateway Harbor.

The city’s 6,000-foot bike path extension connects Payne Avenue to Sweeney Street to the entrance of Mayor’s Park.

City Engineer Dale W. Marshall said the hope is that one day the bike path will reach the Botanical Gardens, the East Robinson Road bridge and tie into the Amherst bike path system, which rims the southern side of the canal.

Michael Zimmerman, executive director of Lumber City Development and city director of Community Development, said the two projects are part of the city’s vision to make the city’s waterfront more accessible.

“Not every community is lucky enough to have this waterfront right in their backyard,” Zimmerman said.

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