Die-hard Western New Yorkers shrug off jokes about our winter because they know the season that really defines this land along the lake is the glorious summer. We got a nice preview of it Friday, celebrated by the openings of two places designed especially for kids but that are welcoming to anyone.
In the middle of an East Side neighborhood, ribbons were cut to officially reopen the rebuilt, state-of-the-art five-acre splash pad in Martin Luther King Park. Three hundred fountains in the long-delayed, $4.5 million play area are turned on for the season, as are those at other splash pads around the city.
On the outer harbor, things moved a lot faster for its newest waterfront attraction. Work started in September on a 20-acre spit of land previously used to store the ice boom; nine months later, the ice boom’s loss is our gain. Dignitaries were lined up in the sunshine Friday to christen the completed, and completely accessible, park.
The weather did its part, sending in a cooling lake breeze to spin the kinetic silver sculptures topping climbing hills at the water’s edge while Victoria Faltisco of City Honors School, joined by dozens of classmates, announced the winning name for the park, chosen in a school contest.
“Wilkeson Pointe” honors Samuel Wilkeson, former mayor of Buffalo (1836-37) and member of Buffalo Harbor Company. He is credited with getting the Erie Canal terminus located in Buffalo instead of Black Rock and was instrumental in construction of the breakwater, which some say made the transition from town to city possible.
But Wilkeson never imagined that one day people would be playing beach volleyball here.
David Colligan did. As head of the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp.’s Outer Harbor Development Committee, Colligan worked with developers, environmentalists, neighbors and government stakeholders to devise a plan for the property once known as “Parcel OH,” the only piece of the outer harbor the development corporation owned outright.
“Some people wanted to put townhouses here,” Colligan said, “but most people were adamant that the first thing we needed was public access to the water. Those other things will come later.”
Designer Tony Anderson of Great Lakes Water Sport Institute incorporated driftwood and climbing rocks into the play areas and framed the walkways with Italian marble and pieces of pillars from St. Joseph’s New Cathedral – some of which had been dumped along the lakefront for erosion control after the church was demolished in 1976.
There are pathways encircling the park, a gazebo for picnics and even a beach area between the parkland and the Times Beach Nature Preserve on its north side.
Lt. Gov. Robert J. Duffy headed the officials celebrating the park and its swift completion, joined by Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, State Sen. Mark Grisanti, R-Buffalo, and Assemblyman Sean Ryan D-Buffalo.
Higgins, one of waterfront development’s greatest champions, called this one more step for Buffalo to “take its rightful place as a great waterfront city.”
Grisanti took a more aggressive tack, scolding Buffalonians who persist in being negative.
“Come down to Canalside, come to the outer harbor, get out of your houses,” Grisanti almost shouted, and gesturing southward, added, “We’ve got Guns N’ Roses building their stage right over there!”
(Axl Rose and company perform Wednesday to open the outer harbor’s 2013 concert series).
Forecasts for today indicate it will still be a good time to check out the parks, bicycle paths and pools, before things take what forecasters calls a “more active” turn tonight and Sunday.
“Saturday morning should be like a normal summer day, in the mid-80s, and then we’ll start to see more cloud cover,” Jim Mitchell of the National Weather Service said Friday. “Saturday night will be very warm. We may not get out of the 70s.”
Mitchell said the chance of thunderstorms increased for tonight, and by Sunday, a major front is expected to move through the area, bringing rain, cooler temperatures and less humidity.
Things should dry out by the beginning of the week, with highs in the 60s Monday, gradually warming for Tuesday, when Billy Idol takes the stage at Artpark, and Wednesday when Guns N’ Roses rocks the harbor.