The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and
Historic Preservation (OPRHP) initiated a comprehensive planning process to
identify capital rehabilitation and improvement projects that should be
undertaken in Niagara Falls State Park. The projects were necessary to retain
the park’s international stature and to provide a world-class experience for the
8 million visitors to Niagara Falls each year. Maintaining the historic
characteristics of the park’s original design was an integral part of this
project. The master plan for the preservation and enhancement of the natural
landscape and scenery surrounding Niagara Falls and the islands and river rapids
above the falls had been created in 1887 by Frederick Law Olmsted and his
colleague, Calvert Vaux.
Erdman Anthony was retained to provide
Schematic Design, Design Development, and Bidding/Construction Document services
for two of the first projects envisioned under this ambitious program. Our
subconsultant, Trowbridge Wolf Michaels, would complete the Landscape
Architecture Services. This project involved an extensive rehabilitation of the
locations to improve safety, aesthetics, natural habitats, and accessibility in
order to restore the facilities to a state befitting their world-class
The project featured several one-of-a-kind items created
specifically for the park. Among these items were three varieties of a prototype
railing system. Another was a multi-rail aluminum beam system of varying
diameters curved inward to increase safety. The new system, while composed of
modern, durable components, closely matched the vertical profile of the original
Olmsted design. Every foot of the new railing was manufactured to exacting
specifications, varying according to whether it was to be used as bridge
railing, walkway railing, or safety railing at the face of Niagara Gorge. At the
Three Sisters Islands this project involved extensive work on the pedestrian
bridges between the islands. This included replacement of the existing cable
railing system with the new metal railing system and removal of visually
incompatible monolithic concrete abutments. It was also necessary to refinish
the exposed faces on two concrete arches and resurface the bridge decks with
faux stone pavers. On Luna Island, the existing 1950s-vintage three-beam
aluminum railing system was warped and damaged from years of severe winter ice
loading. The project called for the replacement of this railing with a prototype
system that would become the standard installation for miles of new railing
throughout the Niagara Reservation.
Other innovative design features
included faux stone pavers. They were selected to resemble the naturally
occurring stone outcrops in the area and are textured to be slip resistant in
the nearly constant wet conditions in some areas. The pavers were specified in
varying thicknesses according to their potential use, ranging from ultra-thin
for bridge decking to thicker sections able to withstand vehicular traffic in
the trolley-car areas. Other features include a wooden trolley station with
copper roofing and glass walls, constructed on site. This one-of-a-kind
structure was built according to the exacting specifications of the structural
engineers and architects.
One of this project’s greatest contributions
to the community is the increased accessibility to the Three Sisters Islands.
This area had been virtually inaccessible to handicapped individuals because of
steep ramps or lengthy approaches. Access improvements were made to Goat Island
parking areas, an accessible route from the parking area was designed, a shelter
for the park trolley system was constructed, improved lighting and signage were
installed, adjacent roadways were rehabilitated, and landscape features were
added. Now, handicapped visitors have access across all three islands and are
able to reach previously unavailable view sheds of the river and
Other challenges involved developing construction means and
methods for delivering materials and equipment to the project sites without
affecting the historic stone structures. This involved careful study of the
structures to determine their safe load-carrying capacities and then developing
the appropriate weight restrictions. In the case of the Three Sisters Islands
location, an upstream temporary pipe and stone bridge for access to the islands
was created to avoid the structure completely.
One of the primary goals
of the project was to greatly improve the aesthetics of both locations. Click here to see some of the
before and after photos to see the stunning transformation that has occurred.
Tattered asphalt paths have been replaced with pleasing stone pavers that
increase the width. In addition, curves make the formerly straight path more
attractive and interesting to walkers to meander through the trails.
Massive concrete abutments on the pedestrian bridges have been removed and
replaced with a more transparent state-of-the-art railing system.
Overgrown brush, bramble, and dead trees have been replaced with thousands
of new plantings more appropriate to the surroundings.
Bent and misshapen railings have been replaced by a one-of-a-kind railing
system that improves visibility, increases safety, and better complements the
historical nature of the park.
Broken down and aging metal bus shelters have been replaced with larger,
safer location-appropriate wooden structures featuring copper roofs, glass
walls, lighting, and increased seating.
Handicapped persons now have full access to the entire Three Sisters Islands
chain due to new parking areas, ramps, paths, and access features.
Minimal random bench locations have been replaced with numerous stone seats
that enhance the area and provide much-needed respite locations.
Patchy grass and weed-infested lawns have been replaced with trees, bushes,
and plantings in a wide variety of location-appropriate species.
These items and many more have restored Three Sisters and Luna islands to
their deserved splendor and renewed Olmsted’s vision for the park for all to