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Steering Toward The Future

 The former Union Ship Canal and the land around it are a microcosm of the Outer Harbor itself.

The canal tells the story about Buffalo's history in the heavy steel industry. And with much development having been completed within the last year, it provides a glimpse of what the Outer Harbor can become.

Opened last October with a formal ribbon cutting, the canal is the centerpiece for Ship Canal Commons, a public park that includes more than two miles of multi-use pathways for biking and walking. Sections of old railroad tracks and rails for cranes are still visible.

As part of the new-look commons, cone-shaped hills were created to replicate the shapes of huge piles of limestone that once lined the canal's edge. For years, Hanna Furnace had been located there. The plant, which manufactured pig iron, was demolished in the 1980s.

As Peter Cammarata and David Stebbins walk around the old canal, they talk about how so much has been done there, and their plans for more.

Since the 1990s, Cammarata and Stebbins have run Buffalo Urban Development Corp., which was charged with rehabbing the area that today includes nearby Buffalo Lakeside Commerce Park, home to companies such as Cobey Inc., Sonwil Distrbution Center Inc. and CertainTeed Corp.

"This area was completely undeveloped," said Stebbins, Buffalo Urban Development Corp. vice president. Cammarata is president.

"As a kid, my family would drive over the bridges and all you could see was a big black pile of coal," said David Colligan, a member of the Erie County Harbor Development Corp. board and who chairs its Outer Harbor subcommittee. "What a filthy place this was. Now, it's one of the prettiest places on the Outer Harbor, and a textbook example of how to develop a waterfront."

As Cammarata walks, he picks up wind blown plastic cups and papers that litter the new park. As he does, he points out the seawall, which stops, then starts up again.

Built around 1900, parts had deteriorated and crumbled into the canal. The wall has been re-built, and includes a pedestrian walkway along its perimeter. Plants were added beneath the water, to create an aquatic habitat.

All total, around $9 million was spent on the public park, which can be used for fishing. Stebbins said a meeting has been recently held about including a Frisbee-golf type course, but that is only in the idea stage.

"The next step is to create hand launch docks in the water for kayaks and canoes," Stebbins said.

Other ideas for the park include the addition of restrooms and some kind of restaurant or snack bar.

While much has been done in the last year at the Outer Harbor Colligan talked about plans for a kids beach at parcel of land near Times Beach Nature Preserve, co-owned by New York Power Authority and Cargill.

Today, the area is overgrown. But plans call for a playground, sand volleyball courts, and wind sculptures.

When they spin in the wind, it will sound as if they're playing songs . Plans also call for a fishing pier, a water taxi dock and a bike trail that would take the rider to the top of a sculpted 15-foot mound from which the city can be viewed.

"We're just getting warmed up," said Rep. Brian Higgins, who talked excitedly about the plans. He said the formula for doing so is simple: remove the barriers to access with new parkways to create an interconnected system of parks.

"We are seeing an aggressive, thoughtful build out of the Outer Harbor, Canalside and converting Ohio Street into a parkway," he said. "All of this is happening today."

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