Luna and Three Sisters Islands Restoration

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 environment.

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 falls.

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 enjoy.

Project Accolades

  • Project Awards
  • 2015 Project of the Year Award - American Public Works Association, Western New York
  • 2014 Gold Award - American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC), New York

Project Details


Niagara Falls, NY


New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation

Project Contact

Daniel Ziemianski, PE
  • Daniel Ziemianski, PE
  • 716-631-1241 x 1103
Bookmark and Share