City planners, nature lovers and historical preservationists want to revitalize one of the city's most isolated public parks, making it into a mecca of green space for family relaxation, fishing and memorialization of the Underground Railroad.
Consultants described their vision for the future of Broderick Park on Squaw Island to a small audience Thursday in the Rich Products Atrium, just a short walk from the park but out of view of the park itself.
Peter Trowbridge, a landscape architect for the Ithaca consulting firm of Trowbridge, Wolf and Michaels, said a new master plan for Broderick Park "could turn the entire park into a memorial to the Underground Railroad while also preserving plenty of green ‘park space.'" He said the master plan was a collaboration among the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, City of Buffalo and Friends of Broderick Park.
A spokesman for the city Parks Department said Buffalo has about $1.5 million to redesign the park and to begin some reconstruction, perhaps as early as this year. First, however, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has to sign off on its plans to shore up the perimeter of the island and stabilize the shoreline bulkheads to improve safety and guard against erosion.
Squaw Island is between the Niagara River and the Black Rock Canal at the foot of West Ferry Street, just west of Niagara Street. But it can't be seen from nearby Niagara Street because the narrow Ferry Street approach ducks beneath a railroad bridge and the Niagara Thruway viaduct, then rises sharply to negotiate the lift bridge that crosses the Black Rock Canal. Motorists speeding along the Thruway can get a fleeting glimpse of the park but they have no direct access to it.
The park is nestled between the city's sewage treatment plant at the north end of Squaw Island and the Bird Island pier that stretches off the south end.
Several people at Thursday's meeting said it was a gem of a park. About 40 cars were parked in its lot just before sundown Thursday. Many of their owners were fishing, strolling along the pier or relaxing in lawn chairs to watch the swiftly flowing river and the passing parade of speedboats and small cruisers on a beautiful, sunny summer evening.
The redesign concept includes an amphitheater and performance area, a modified parking layout, a new family gathering space and a waterfront promenade.
Trowbridge said one of the objectives is to restore the historical integrity of the park and to install interpretive panels to describe the ferry landing that was a jumping off spot for escaping slaves on their flight to freedom in Canada.
"Grassy areas laced with walkways will provide unobstructed views across the river to Canada," he said. "It will be an Underground Railroad Memorial Freedom Walk."