Preliminary note on list below: This list and various options can best be envisioned by touring an established site that already includes similar infrastructure, such as Pine Creek Gorge in PA (here and here), Letchworth State Park in NY (here), or Lehigh Gorge State Park in PA (here). For other examples, videos, ideas, and funding, see National Park Service, Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program.
Benches: Benches are appropriate for fishing access points, boat launch areas, and other locations. Resting points for hikers and bicyclists along recreational trails are essential for small children who tire easily. Some of the most frequent usage of such trails comes from people over 50 who may need such accommodations to enjoy their experience. Costly styles that prioritize aesthetic appeal over durability can be sources of frustration when the inevitable vandal or falling tree strikes. Preference should be given to simpler styles made of much more heavy-duty materials that assure long-term near-invincibility, little or no maintenance even when subjected to heavy weathering, and resistance to assaults by vandals, storm-blown trees, or overuse.
Boat Launches: The project’s goal is a boat launch for canoes and kayaks every three to four (3-4) miles along the Genesee River. This complements New York State’s official goal of developing the “Triple Divide Water Trail” along the Genesee River (New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, 2010 Statewide Trails Plan, Fig. 4, map of “Water Trails Network“). Helpful information about canoe/kayak launches on other sections of the Genesee River and its tributaries, including a section on legal issues, can be found in the Genesee-Finger Lakes Regional Blueway Trails Analysis. Parking lots with signs are crucial to make canoe/kayak launches accessible and easily identifiable, especially for people from outside the immediate neighborhood. They are also vital marketing tools for attracting tourism. Parking lots for boat launches should be located safely away from the river and separated from the river by a forested buffer zone. This will protect them from flood damage and reduce their contribution to toxic runoff, erosion, and destruction of riverside habitat needed for fish and wildlife. Canoes and kayaks are easily carried, so a connecting driveway or graded walkway is sufficient to link such parking lots to an inexpensive riverside launch. Some of these parking lots should be large enough to accommodate commercial shuttle services that require buses and boat trailers. A design guide for inexpensive canoe/kayak launches is available from the National Park Service (Logical Lasting Launches). Another excellent resource for planning, designing, constructing, and managing a blueway (water trail system) along the Genesee River is the Blue Trail materials produced by American Rivers (also here). Examples can be viewed up close by a short trip to Pine Creek Gorge in north central PA. Priority in construction of launches and size of parking lots will be according to river discharge and navigability: (1) From Belvidere (intersection of I-86 and NY Rt. 19), NY, northward (downstream), the Genesee River usually has a clear main channel and maintains a flow sufficient to sustain boating even in low water season. (2) From Wellsville, NY, to Belvidere, NY, the river maintains enough flow to sustain canoes and kayaks for most of the year. At some points it is narrow enough that fallen trees present major challenges. (3) From Genesee, PA, to Wellsville, NY, the river is difficult to navigate, often obstructed by fallen trees, and has impractically low water for most of the summer. (4) South (upstream) from Genesee, PA, the river is too small to justify investment in any kind of boat launches. Wherever possible, construction of boat launches should be used to expand forested riparian buffers to protect and improve the river’s water quality.
Camping Areas: Camping areas will be located every 10-15 miles along the Genesee River to accommodate multi-day trips by canoe, kayak, foot, or bicycle. In some cases this can include private campgrounds or municipal parks in which a local community creates a uniquely hospitable arrangement to accommodate brief overnight stays by hikers, bicyclists, and other tourists passing through the area without a car. But in most cases, bridge-side parks and public day-use recreational areas in close proximity to populated areas are not appropriate locations for camping areas because of the greater maintenance costs and increased likelihood of abuses. Instead, camping areas more typically will be located as far as possible from roads to assure the safety of campers, reduce vandalism and misuse of the site, and minimize littering and related maintenance costs. Such campsites will be further protected from misuse by being surrounded by numerous acres of protected land. Small rustic campsites isolated from roads and accessible only by trail or river should include at least a few rudimentary features, such as a pit latrine and fire pit. A large metal bear-safe food storage box is helpful. Other features may include an open Appalachian-Trail-style shelter (for photographs of many different styles, click on “shelter” on the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s interactive trail map). These small campsites should be forested and will operate on a carry-in/carry-out policy to reduce maintenance. Ideally there will be at least two or three much larger campgrounds with road access, hot showers, and other elaborate facilities along the Genesee River between Lyman Run State Park in PA and Letchworth State Park in NY. Securing lands along the Genesee River or a tributary stream for forested camping areas with minimally-invasive camping infrastructure located safely away from the stream bank provides an ideal strategy for expanding protective forested riparian buffers that improve water quality.
Financial Incentives to Landowners: Rent, easements that provide tax reductions, and other forms of assistance are available to compensate farmers and other landowners for reforestation of parts of their land near the river, constructing fences and other structures that limit the access of cattle to tributary streams, recreational access to the river, and other types of cooperation. In some cases this may take the form of outright purchase. Relevant programs are administered by the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (e.g., EQIP [Environmental Quality Incentives Program], USDA Forest Service, WHIP [Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program], FRPP [Farm and Ranchlands Protection Program], WRP [Wetlands Reserve Program]), the Appalachian Regional Commission, the Allegany County Soil and Water Conservation District, and other federal, state, and local offices, as well as private non-profit organizations such as the Genesee Valley Conservancy (on NY side), Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (on PA side). Only a few of the many possible options are listed on the Resources & Funding page.
Fishery Restoration: Fishery restoration will occur partly through reforestation along the river. Water is naturally filtered by trees on the banks and floodplains of the Genesee River and its tributaries and by aquatic weeds in nearby wetlands. Trees near riverbanks also provide shade that reduces water temperatures to levels required by trout and other cold-water fish. More proactive construction of fish habitats and removal of abandoned riverside buildings and unused parking lots to restore riverside wetlands will increase the fish population even more. This will support and attract more wildlife dependent on fish, such as eagles, great blue herons, and river otters. Better fishing and more wildlife bring the economic benefits of more tourism.
Fishing Access Points: Easier access to fishing attracts more tourism. Some access points should include structures that accommodate children and people with disabilities.
Genesee River Heritage Park: Tentative plans include an environmentally sustainable county park in Allegany County, NY, with hemlocks, white pines, and other features that offer reforestation, conservation, and the reduced mowing costs associated with heavily shaded forest floors. This will recreate the features the area had before the arrival of white settlers. Over time, a portion of the park safely away from the floodplain might include log cabins that would mimic colonial models while functioning as restrooms, a display area for the work of local artists, and a concession stand. Trails, pavilions, gazebos, an amphitheater, picnic tables, children’s playgrounds, swimming and wading areas, a staging area for river excursions by watercraft such as rubber rafts and canoes, and a few inexpensive structures located safely away from the river can be included that do not detract from the goal of using the park to expand forested riparian buffers and other methods of watershed conservation.
Land: The project benefits from cooperative landowners who may secure conservation easements to reduce taxes or some other mutually beneficial agreement. But river conservation and development of recreational infrastructure is accomplished most easily when land is acquired through purchase or donation. Acquisition of land is the top priority in the project’s goals and budgetary allocations. To assure that any given piece of land provides a profitable attraction for tourism and sustaining the economy of the surrounding area, an amount equivalent to a small proportion (such as 10%) of its purchase price will usually be devoted to providing it with environmentally sustainable recreational infrastructure such as trails, boat launches, and other features. Since the Genesee River Wilds Project is a coalition of groups and organizations, purchased or donated land can be secured in a variety of ways and by a variety of organizations that share complementary goals. These include state conservation departments, private non-profit land conservancies such as the Genesee Valley Conservancy (NY) and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy (PA), local business associations and chambers of commerce, and other groups, including Genesee River Wilds (NY). Conservation easements that protect the future usage of a piece of land are often recommended.
Maps: Maps are essential for both marketing and usage of the riverside park system. At present, many of the recreational resources near the upper Genesee River do not appear on many commercial maps (although PA markets its resources better than NY; e.g., only a few commercial maps indicate that Allegany County, NY, has over 55,000 acres of state forests and wildlife management areas). Rectifying this is an immediate goal. Small kiosks with a supply of recreational maps and all-weather mapboards should be located at trailheads, campgrounds, boating access points, and other strategic locations. An electronic map of the trail system being developed along the Genesee River is now available on the Triple Divide Trail System page.
Municipal Parks: In addition to protecting undeveloped areas along the Genesee River for conservation and recreation, one of the project’s goals is restoration of developed areas in the towns along the river and its major tributary streams. This may include creating new forested municipal parks and reconfiguring existing riverside parks so that they are more environmentally sustainable. Typically this includes a shift away from large open areas such as ball-fields and toward recreational features that accommodate more forested areas, such as trails, pavilions, and picnic tables. This type of design reduces flooding and more naturally integrates human recreational activity into the riverside habitat needed by wildlife. The buffer of riverside shade trees in these parks will also help reduce water temperatures and improve water quality so that it is better able to sustain trophy trout and smaller cold-water species that feed large gamefish. Regulations for use of these parks should protect them for relatively low-impact recreational activity that allows the nearby areas to maintain their role as habitat for wildlife. For example, municipal regulations should forbid riverside nature parks from being used for motorcycle races, tractor pulls, and other loud activities more appropriate for a county fairgrounds and other locations that provide sufficient space at a greater distance from the river. Such activities negatively impact rare wildlife that depend on the unique habitat along the river banks for nesting and raising their young, such as bald eagles or the river otters recently transplanted to the upper Genesee River valley. Small townships with limited resources that incorporate such regulations into their planning for riverside parks will be more likely to qualify for environmentally-related funding when trying to secure grants to build these parks. Municipal parks that combine sustainable recreation and forested riverside habitat that accommodates fish and wildlife also have economic benefits, such as attracting tourism and reducing the mowing costs associated with open lawns. Municipalities that collaborate in the construction of these quiet riverside nature parks might qualify for technical assistance, grants, and privileged access to federal and state funds that support the Genesee River Wilds Project. This may provide incentives to move winter salt piles, paved parking lots, township barns, plans for new housing, and other facilities away from locations close to the river.
Observation Structures for Birds and Other Wildlife: These may include: (1) Viewing platforms and decks at various locations. In wetlands safely above the floodplain and other cases in which protection from flood damage is assured, this can often be relatively inexpensive (e.g., the short boardwalk and bird-watching blind in the Muck/Marsh Creek in Tioga County, PA). (2) A river wetlands trail of at least one mile in length consisting of an inexpensive paved footpath and/or a more expensive elevated boardwalk. This will allow children, the elderly, and people with disabilities to see the bald eagles, beavers, and other wildlife along the unique ecological corridor of a swampy wetlands at the river’s edge, which is otherwise accessible only by adventurers in kayaks or canoes. Interpretive signs should be included. One model for such an educational trail is in Turning Point Park on the Genesee River in Rochester. Another model is a section of the Appalachian Trail that passes through a massive swamp at the Pochuck Creek and Floodplain Crossing in New Jersey (also here). Both are popular tourist attractions and frequently used for research projects and educational field trips from schools in nearby regions. Similar constructions could be incorporated at sites adjacent to the upper Genesee River and its tributaries while safely above floodplains.
Pocket Parks: Small parks with just a few simple environmentally sustainable features will be constructed at numerous points along the river. Even a small boat launch next to a bridge often can accommodate a picnic table, a rain shelter, a children’s swingset, and a flowerbed. These small parks can be maintained by a neighbor, township, or volunteer group. In every case, the park should be constructed with a forested buffer along the river or tributary stream so as to contribute to the overall goals of minimizing flooding and sedimentation, reducing deposit of fertilizers and other pollutants, providing shade to cool water for fish, expanding riverside wildlife habitat, and in other ways improving the water quality of the Genesee River and its tributaries.
Parking Lots: Parking lots provide more safety than impromptu pull-off areas because they reduce the temptation to park dangerously close to roads. They are essential for making a recreational feature accommodating for actual usage by tourists unfamiliar with an area. Well-marked parking lots with inviting signs should be placed at trailheads, river access points, and other locations. Some should be large enough to provide access for buses carrying school children on field trips and commercial shuttle services for hiking and river excursions. Parking lots made of gravel are relatively inexpensive, reduce runoff, and discourage speeding in areas where children may be present. Since parking areas typically function as the beginning or end of a recreational outing, in some cases they should be complemented by picnic tables, restrooms, and other simple features. Some excellent examples appear along the Pine Creek Trail, which is one of the models for the Genesee River Wilds Project.
Pavilions and Rain Shelters: Pavilions are relatively inexpensive and are essential to family reunions and other large gatherings. Usage policies may include permission to use the pavilion at no cost on a first-come, first-serve basis if it is not already officially reserved by someone else who has paid a small fee. In some cases, such as at small fishing access points, a small rain shelter may provide a welcome alternative to being drenched, especially for people with disabilities and families with small children.
Picnic Tables: Picnic tables should be located not only in parks, but also in strategic locations at intervals of approximately every two miles along the Genesee River Wilds Trail and the Genesee Valley Greenway. These will provide rest stops for hikers and bicyclers.
Restroom Facilities: Restroom facilities should be placed at selected wilderness trailheads, full-service campgrounds, and intervals of approximately 10-12 miles along the Genesee River trail system. These should include potable water spigots for hikers, boaters, and other travelers. Costs and maintenance can be optimized if each restroom is located away from towns but at points where highways, hiking trails, and canoe-kayak access points are close enough to each other that a single restroom can serve more than one transportation system (road, trail, and river). In most cases they should be found at parking lots, as can be seen by a trip to the system along Pine Creek in north central PA, which has some appealing examples.
Riparian Buffers (Streamside Reforestation Zones): Reforestation of the floodplain of the Genesee River and selected tributaries is the fundamental technique for flood mitigation, erosion control, wildlife habitat preservation, fishery restoration, reducing deposit of fertilizers and other pollutants, and the other goals of the project. Trees should dominate even when portions of newly acquired lands are designated for small grassy open spaces, gravel parking lots, or paved pads for boat launches or other recreational features. Every effort should be made to create a forested riparian buffer of at least 300 feet on each side of the Genesee River and at least 100 feet on each side of major tributary streams (e.g., Cryder Creek, Dyke Creek, Angelica Creek, Black Creek, Wiscoy Creek). In many places a smaller width will be necessary to accommodate towns, farms, and other existing development. In other locations a wider piece of land along the river or one of its tributaries may be secured or a mutually beneficial strategy can be developed with cooperative landowners. In some cases it may be possible for the forested zone to extend 1/4 mile on each side of the river, which is the average width (with range up to 1/2 mile) recommended for the highest class of federally protected rivers. For studies of economic and environmental benefits, recommendations for types of trees to plant, and other features, see Riparian Buffer Management, Fact Sheet (MD Coop Ext.); Riparian Buffer Design and Maintenance (MD Coop. Ext.); Understanding the Science Behind Riparian Forest Buffers (VA Coop. Ext.); and in much greater detail, the Chesapeake Bay Riparian Handbook: A Guide for Establishing and Maintaining Riparian Forest Buffers (USDA).
Scenic Overlooks: Areas accessible by car and hiking trail for scenic viewing with parking lots, educational signs, picnic tables, and restroom facilities should be constructed, especially where a unique opportunity for viewing wildlife or a geological feature is present.
Signs, Educational: Educational signs should be posted near key natural features such as wetlands and at readily accessible trailheads or boating access points. This is especially vital at viewing platforms, educational boardwalks, scenic overlooks, and other features that may attract significant tourist traffic.
Signs, Marketing: Signs are more effective marketing tools than websites for passing travelers and other people not already looking for a known feature. At present, signs are especially lacking on the NY side. Very few signs guide tourists to the few rough but serviceable canoe/kayak launches already in use along the upper Genesee River. The steady stream of tourists who drive by on Interstate 86 are not alerted when they pass within easy sight of huge swaths of state forests in the upper Genesee River watershed, some of which contain highly developed trail systems that could otherwise be attractive to such tourists. Signs need to be added along Interstate 86, Interstate 390, NY Route 19, PA Route 449, and other highways. Signs near Letchworth State Park (NY), Allegany State Park (NY), Allegheny National Forest (PA), Lyman Run State Park (PA), and Pine Creek Gorge (PA) should alert visitors to the neighboring Genesee River Wilds recreational system and to the other park systems nearby. This would help integrate all of these recreational areas into one massive two-state recreational system (northwestern tier, PA; southwestern tier, NY). This approach would advertise each park system by the combined size of the whole. As with any business, signs should be posted at the earliest possible stage of development of any new recreational feature rather than awaiting its completion. Inexpensive signs posted in the early phases of development arouse curiosity, attract usage from those who can deal with the provisional state of a recreational feature, and help recruit supporters needed to bring the project to completion. The initial interest and provisional usage inspired by even the most rudimentary signs play a key role in justifying requests for additional funding in grant applications.
State Parks: The Genesee River Wilds Project will provide a necklace of parks and greenways stretching between Letchworth State Park, NY, and Lyman Run State Park, PA. This patchwork of parks and greenways is not a single state park. Instead, it is a system of parks that will include county, municipal, and other smaller parks and forested recreational areas along the Genesee River. But its combined magnitude will perform many of the same functions as a massive national or state park. At some point this comprehensive function may be complemented by the acquisition of a large piece of land in Allegany County, NY, that can be transformed into a full-service New York State park. This would be integrated into the larger park system because it would be strategically located along the Genesee River between Letchworth State Park, NY, and Lyman Run State Park, PA. The expense of a new state park in this area is all the more justified because Allegany County does not have a state park. The criteria supplied by NY state officials for creating a new state park in this area is securing land that includes: (1) a minimum of 500 acres and preferably closer to 3,000 acres; (2) significant frontage directly on the Genesee River that can be used for boating, swimming, and other recreation; (3) a location far enough south from Letchworth State Park to avoid redundancy. These criteria suggest that any new state park would have to be located directly on the Genesee River between Scio and Caneadea. The extent of development along the river in this area will make it difficult to secure land that meets these criteria. But progress in creating the more comprehensive system of contiguous parks and forested recreational areas along the river will provide many of the same economic and recreational benefits. As this riverside conservation corridor is developed, it may eventually result in securing a key piece of land that can be developed into a new state park. Hence priority is currently placed on the more attainable goal of establishing the planned patchwork of parks and reforestation zones along the river.
Swimming Areas: The chief obstacle to swimming in a river or creek is usually muddy banks that hinder access to rock spurs and other features that provide attractive swimming areas. In many cases a boat launch that includes a cement pad, pavement, or large stable rocks can do double duty as a swimming area. Major camping areas should include access points for swimming or wading, with safety and potential damage through flooding kept in mind.
Trail, Greenway and Blueway System Stretching ca. 230 miles from Lake Ontario in Rochester, NY, to the Susquehanna River in Williamsport, Pa: See the new electronic maps and Strategic Plan for the Triple Divide Trail System. Much of this massive corridor consists of existing recreational systems that are already fully functional and highly successful. These include Letchworth State Park (NY) and the Pine Creek Gorge (PA). Connecting these and other existing recreational resources together into a seamless corridor for outdoor recreation, environmental conservation, and economic development is a long-term project. However, trails such as the Appalachian Trail provide a model for immediate usage. Even these well-established recreational systems incorporate back roads, highway bridges, and downtown areas in sections where a forested trail corridor has not yet been secured or is not feasible. Thus the entire 230-mile trail system from Rochester to Williamsport can be considered fully operational at the present time by provisionally identifying its route with nearby roads at points in which no trail is available or the nearby sections of the trail are not yet fully developed. One of the major reasons for developing this trail system is that it offers a strategy for attracting new stakeholders invested in the improvement and protection of the Genesee River. As indicated in the Strategic Plan, the greenways and blueways that will connect the system together are just one narrow thread of a wider conservation corridor that includes the Genesee River. Whenever possible, acquisitions needed for creating and improving the trail along the river should include additional land for this wider corridor. As demonstrated by the Appalachian Trail system, which usually is within a corridor a few hundred or more feet wide, a wide corridor reduces privacy concerns that nearby landowners may have over trail construction. Most important, the creation of an economically productive riverside greenway that generates tourism and improved community quality of life generates stakeholder support for using the trail as a toehold to create a wider corridor of forested riparian buffers.
Waste Management: Historically the upper Genesee River watershed has been challenged by the limited budgetary resources that its impoverished rural communities can contribute to sewage infrastructure and by short-sighted planning that often locates waste facilities close to the river and its tributary creeks. Many of these facilities are close to population centers or near major highways, so their construction in such highly visible locations has also diminished opportunities for development of these sites into nature parks or some other kind of sustainable resources that could have added aesthetic appeal to local communities. The short-term benefits of locating dumps in such highly visible sites are far outweighed by the negative impact on nearby water sources and the long-term loss of these sites as potential resources for tourism and other sustainable sources of revenue. The most egregious example is an EPA superfund site in Wellsville, NY, which once included an industrial waste dump near the village water supply intake. The restoration efforts at this site have taken many years and come at huge taxpayer expense. But many other public and private waste sites, some currently polluting local streams or posing growing threats for the future, can be found along the river valley and the streams in the upper Genesee River watershed. More responsible planning places dumps, sewage treatment plants, private disposal containers, and other waste management facilities in much less visible and safer locations at greater distances from the river and its tributaries. This will prevent the inevitable cases of human carelessness, construction failure, flooding, overflow of holding ponds, runoff from melting snow, and other threats from endangering the water quality of tributary streams, the river, and Lake Ontario.
Water Quality Monitoring: Establish a broader program and increased number of stations for water quality monitoring along the Genesee River and its major tributaries. This will assure that municipal sewage treatment centers, waste facilities, industrial zones, businesses, and agricultural installations are functioning properly.
Water Supply Alternatives: Development and population growth along the river will eventually strain the river’s ability to supply water for drinking, irrigation, fish and wildlife habitat, recreational boating, and other purposes. Planning for the future requires addressing this in advance by developing alternative water sources.
Wetlands Restoration: Since development along the Genesee River and its floodplain has historically come at the expense of surrounding wetlands, consideration should be given to wetlands restoration. This may include purchasing and removing abandoned shopping centers and vacant parking lots that originally were constructed over marshes and swamps adjacent to the river or one of its tributaries; reconfiguring the layout or placement of active parking lots near the river to increase the forested buffer zone and area for natural wetlands restoration between the parking lot and the river; creating small channels or dams to restore swamps or oxbow lakes; and removing pipes that have diverted the flow of springs away from the depleted wetlands that they originally had supplied. Wetlands are vital for wildlife habitat. Wetlands restoration also provides an efficient and relatively inexpensive means of restoring water quality. Cattails and other aquatic weeds found in wetlands absorb arsenic and other toxins that seep into the nearby river system. Creating a forested buffer along the river that allows the river enough room to create new oxbow lakes and replenish older riverside wetlands thus provides an inexpensive way for nature to take its own course in restoring the river’s purity. The same assumptions can justify a more proactive restoration of wetlands, as is demonstrated by the artificial wetlands created to purify water at the EPA Superfund site next to the Genesee River in Wellsville, NY.
Wildlife Habitat Restoration: Reforestation and other environmental protection projects along the river and its tributaries will help restore and preserve wildlife habitat. In a few locations some additional effort may be justified, such as restoring wetlands or assisting farmers to build fences that limit cattle access to a beaver pond or tributary stream.
Zoning and Development Policies: Encourage townships to establish zoning, construct forested parks that function as conservation areas, and pursue other policies that direct development away from the river and its floodplain. Help townships secure the funding that FEMA’s flood insurance program and other government programs offer to encourage such policies. Support for these policies can be acquired through education about their long-term financial benefits (e.g., forested parks make an area more attractive for business development nearby and reduce expenditures on flood damage and flood control). Since the upper Genesee River watershed is a rural area with vast expanses of undeveloped land located at safe distances from the floodplain of the river and its tributaries, zoning and other restrictions on new development in the floodplain would not seriously infringe on business, industry, and other development. For an example of how to implement such policies, see Local Water Policy Innovation: A Roadmap for Community Based Stormwater Solutions (American Rivers).