NIAGARA FALLS – A dash of red. A stroke of blue. A swath of yellow. All to bring a little beauty back to one worn-down corner of downtown.
Volunteers and students recently helped decorate part of what’s known as Hydraulic Park, a parcel of land at the northwest corner of Third and Niagara streets, with a mural.
The individual paintings, affixed to a small building on the lot, were done by students in the Niagara Liberty program, a dropout-prevention effort for fifth-graders through high school seniors funded by the state.
The project grew out of a brainstorming session with the students who, at the time, had a dim view of their surroundings in the city, said Krista Ehasz, Niagara Liberty program coordinator.
“They think it’s kind of dirty,” she said of their original discussion months ago. “They just don’t think it looks nice.”
The parcel’s not a city-owned park – it’s actually owned by the Sheraton at the Falls, located down the road on Third Street. For years, the land, which was formerly part of a hydraulic canal system that helped power mills on the Niagara Gorge, has appeared neglected.
But over the last year or so, some people have been paying more attention to the park. Volunteer Joseph Hotchkiss, a Niagara University graduate, undertook a cleanup project there, for which he was recognized by the Main Street Business & Professional Association and the Niagara Beautification Commission.
More than 50 participants in the Niagara Liberty program contributed to the mural project, which they have dubbed the Liberty Silhouettes. Lockport artist Alec Maslowski helped the students with their painting. A few of the students’ paintings also are hanging in the kitchen area of the Community Missions of Niagara.
Seth A. Piccirillo, director of the city’s Community Development Department, said the high-profile property, which sits in the downtown tourist district, has been helped through the work of volunteers and through donations, including mural supplies provided through a grant from Niagara County Cornell Cooperative Extension.
The Sheraton at the Falls both this year and last donated $1,000 to the Niagara Beautification Commission to plant flowers in a fountain at the site.
“It’s an improvement that started with volunteers, and it keeps gaining momentum,” Piccirillo said.
With the city as a willing partner moving forward, Ehasz, of the Niagara Liberty program, said the students are taking a more active role and hope to find additional sites for more murals.
“Where before they were complaining,” Ehasz said, “now they’re saying ‘What else can we do? What else can we fix?’ ”