All the best,
Allen Kerkeslager, Ph.D.
Saint Joseph’s University
(former western New Yorker)
Dear Colleagues in Conservation of the Genesee River and Lake Ontario,
This note and the attached documents offer an update on the Genesee River Wilds Project. Readers interested only in technical details can go directly to the “Program Guide” (in the attachments). This is only one of a number of documents that originally were prepared for use by US House Representative Eric Massa in dialogues with Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Governor David Patterson (below). But they deserve wider dissemination. Please feel free to forward this to others who may be encouraged to support the New York State side of the project. Relevant contact information is listed in the attached Program Guide and on the project website at www.geneseeriverwilds.org.
Some recipients of this note are familiar with the Genesee River Wilds Project and have begun promoting a more holistic approach to the Genesee River watershed. Those not familiar with the project may consult the Briefing Paper, the longer Program Guide, and the project website (which does not include the budget and some of the technical data found in the Program Guide). Briefly, the project promotes a comprehensive program of conservation, flood control, recreational development, and economic revitalization along the uppermost (southern) 70 miles of the Genesee River. The focus of the project is conservation. The project emphasizes development of recreational infrastructure because the resulting promise of tourism and business development has proven to be the most effective strategy for winning eager support from local officials and landowners in the impoverished rural communities nearby. The project has implications that that are inter-state and even international in scope because the Genesee River begins in northern Pennsylvania, flows northward all across western New York State before reaching its mouth in Rochester, and is one of the largest rivers feeding into Lake Ontario. The project merits support from organizations concerned with environmental protection, health, education, recreation, economic revitalization, flood control, and improvement of water quality in the Genesee River and Lake Ontario.
Some points of information and recent news:
(1) Series of articles and videos on the Genesee River:
The Genesee River Wilds Project website now includes a link to the recent series of videos, articles, and photographs on the Genesee River done by the major Rochester newspaper (Steve Orr, Max Schulte, and Jeff Blackwell, “Rediscovering the Rambling River,” Rochester Democrat and Chronicle); see www.geneseeriverwilds.org. This excellent series covers the entire river watershed from its sources in Potter County, PA, to the riverside park system in Rochester, NY. Be sure to click around enough to read all the articles and watch all the videos to benefit from its full value. For those unfamiliar with the Genesee River, this is a painless but informative introduction to many of the environmental and economic issues related to the river system as a whole.
(2) On the attached documents created for US House Representative Eric Massa (NY 29th District, which includes much of the Genesee River):
In early March, a member of the Genesee River Wilds Project committees met with Congressman Eric Massa and his environmental specialist Nathan Sermonis in Congressman Massa’s office in Washington, D.C. This was followed a few weeks later by a fuller meeting between five members of the project committees and Congressman Massa in his office just outside of Rochester in Pittsford, NY. Massa requested that we compile a series of documents that could be forwarded to Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and to Governor David Patterson. The most important of these documents are in the attachments (a briefing paper; a budget summary; the Program Guide). The new Program Guide effectively replaces the project’s older Comprehensive Program document that was created when the project first began a year ago. The most important additions are the provisional budget, maps, and other technical information.
The new Program Guide and other attached materials should be useful for your own federal congressional representatives, state officials, agency directors, and leaders of non-profit organizations. Although the Program Guide was written for use by officials from New York, it has been designed to address the needs of both the New York side an
d the Pennsylvania side of the Genesee River so that it can be used in both states and in the context of the inter-state discussions at the federal level in Congress. The budget provided in the Program Guide is merely a provisional one and represents an inflation-adjusted estimate for a multi-year program.
(3) Other developments on the NY side since the project began last year:
Although some of recipients of this note may have been involved with discussions about the Genesee River Wilds Project and patiently supplied information and feedback as early as April of 2008, in the last few weeks the Genesee River Wilds Project has celebrated what may arguably be identified as its first anniversary. The formation of our current committees emerged from large meetings in Belmont, NY, on August 11-13, 2008, with key officials from various New York State agencies, county and municipal legislators from Allegany County, NY, and representatives of various non-profit groups. I am especially grateful to individuals from state agencies who took time from busy schedules to come to that first meeting a year ago, including Russell Biss, New York State Dept. of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC) Region 9; Scott Cornett, NYSDEC Region 9; Michael Miecznikowski, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (NYSOPRHP) Allegany Region; and Ray Goll, NYSOPRHP Genesee Region. Since that time Don Sweezy and others at the New York State Dept. of Transportation (NYSDOT) Region 6 office in Hornell have been quite supportive. A couple officials from this office graciously made time for a meeting with us in January on short notice. I am especially grateful for the continued work of my colleagues on the project committees in New York, including Bill Hart (president of the Allegany County Chamber of Commerce when the project started, more recently squeezing in time to chair the chamber’s project committee while still trying to keep up his jewelry business); Gretchen Gary (Executive Director, Allegany County Soil and Water Conservation District); Eric Grace (Executive Director, Genesee Valley Conservancy). John Foels (Director of Development, Allegany County), continues his support, with the more recent addition last fall of Sherry Grugel (Executive Director, Allegany County Chamber of Commerce, and Tourism Director for Allegany County). The Allegany County legislators have encouraged the project because it provides an avenue for implementing the county’s comprehensive plan. Officials far downstream in Rochester recognize that cleaning up the Genesee River in their city requires cleaning up the river in the rural areas upstream, so they have been very supportive of our efforts to develop a coalition that will address the river system as a whole. Here special thanks goes to Charles Knauf, Environmental Health Project Analyst of the Monroe County (NY) Health Department in Rochester and Paul Sawyko of the Rochester area Water Education Collaborative. Other collaborative relationships have been developed with the Friends of the Genesee Valley Greenway and other groups. Steve Winslow and his colleagues in the Army Corps of Engineers at the Genesee River’s Mt. Morris Dam kindly hosted a meeting last spring and in other ways have helped to foster such collaboration. Biologists from colleges and universities have been supportive from the very beginning and one of them helped his institution host one of our meetings with local landowners last January. The Genesee River Wilds Project held a canoe-kayak trip on the Genesee River in May that went well, despite multiple dunkings and the devastation wreaked on one of the canoes.
This only gives a snapshot of the new interest in the long-neglected upper Genesee River that is beginning to grow on the New York State side. I cannot say enough good about my colleagues on the project committees in New York. Despite the meager financial, technical, and human resources available to them, they continue to hold up under the growing burden of the work on the ground.
(4) Need for technical assistance and other forms of support from better-equipped outside organizations and agencies:
One of the reasons why the upper Genesee River has been neglected for so many decades is that it passes through sparsely pop
ulated rural communities that rank among the lowest in per capita income among all of the counties in NY and PA (Allegany County has long been at or near the very bottom in NY). This imposes limits of personnel, finances from public and private donors, technical resources, and political clout when pursuing funds from federal and state agencies. Thus I would appreciate any recipients of this note who are involved with non-profit organizations and with various federal, state, regional, or municipal agencies to consider how they can help to secure grants, donations, and volunteer support for conservation and recreational development along the upper Genesee River as articulated by the Genesee River Wilds Project. Those with expertise, resources, or access to channels better equipped than what we have available in the small fledgling committees associated with the Genesee River Wilds Project are strongly encouraged to contact my colleagues on the New York side of the project. The internet has made it easy for anyone outside the immediate area to help quite independently, such as by consulting county property tax rolls to compile a list of landowners along the river who, with significant financial incentives, could be recruited for conservation efforts along the river. But my colleagues on the project committees in New York have the advantage of being personally acquainted with local landowners, farmers, county officials, and municipal leaders sympathetic to the project (and despite my present distance, I have some contacts with others with whom they are less familiar). They also know many specific targeted locations to which funds from outside organizations could be allocated. Unfortunately, this advantage does not compensate for their need for help from the specialists and richer resources available in larger agencies, major non-profit organizations, potential partners among the officials of distant urban municipalities downstream, and other groups outside the small rural communities around the upper Genesee River.
The Genesee River Wilds Project is a great opportunity for anyone who has long wished to rectify the years of relative neglect of the distant upper sections of the Genesee River and thereby improve the lower Genesee River, the urban riverside landscape of Rochester, and the water quality of Lake Ontario. Organizations such as Trout Unlimited have played key roles in various smaller projects along the upper Genesee River for a number of years. But for the first time, the upper Genesee River has a small group of local people with enough courage and vision to take up the challenge of improving the river and the nearby areas on the much more massive scale that these resources truly deserve. But this small group needs help from outside.
I urge recipients of this note to contact them to foster the kind of collaboration needed to grapple with a project with such a massive scope. Their contact information and that of others less formally involved is listed on the project website and in the attached Program Guide.
For some specific examples of possible funding for the Genesee River Wilds Project, one may consult the project website, which includes a “links” page with a long list of organizations that supply grants that might be relevant to the project. Once again, it would be helpful for an outside agency and other groups with more expertise and human resources than available in our own small group to collaborate with my colleagues in New York to help them secure some of these grants. The most exciting new source for grants is the Federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which is still so new that some readers of this note may not have had time to consider how important this is for the Genesee River. Probably some of readers or representatives of their organization were at the Federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative meeting in Rochester on July 29. As a representative of the Genesee River Wilds Project, I was very grateful for the opportunity to meet some individuals at this meeting face-to-face after many months of conversations with them via e-mail.
Recipients of this note who are not aware of this new federal program (proposed $475 million) should see http://www.epa.gov/glnpo .The EPA officials at the July
meeting correctly noted that this is a rare, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do something for the Great Lakes, so they and everyone at the meeting repeatedly stated how grateful they were for this new program and the work of the EPA officials in formulating new policies for administering it. Perhaps one of the best features of this new federal initiative is that it rectifies one of the great flaws with the current Great Lakes Legacy Act, which is that it only allows funding to be directed to the targeted “Areas of Concern” along the lakes themselves. This prevented the Great Lakes Legacy Act from addressing problems that are systemic in nature. For example, about 29% of the impairment of the Genesee River is due to agricultural nutrients, many of which are deposited in Lake Ontario and contribute to the lake’s problems with eutrophication. In contrast, the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative offers a litany of funding opportunities that directly address the needs of the upper Genesee River. EPA officials at the meeting in Rochester affirmed that (a) grants are available for the upper reaches of river systems feeding into Lake Ontario as long as applications can be articulated in terms of the benefits to Lake Ontario; (b) many of these grants do not require matching funds; (c) these grants emphasize wildlife habitat, fishery restoration, land preservation, agricultural nutrient reduction, and other concerns not normally targeted in infrastructure projects; (d) some of these grants can be used for purchase of lands that accomplish suc h goals. This offers an exciting and unprecedented opportunity for correcting the years of neglect of the upper Genesee River, which has been counterproductive conservation efforts directed at the lower Genesee River and Lake Ontario.
Grants from the EPA Great Lakes Restoration Initiative that might be relevant to the area of the upper Genesee River targeted by the Genesee River Wilds Project are listed in the “Interagency Funding Guide” (dated August 12, 2009), which is in the attachments and in the box labeled “Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Activities” at http://www.epa.gov/glnpo/glri . This guide reveals an abundance of research grants that might attract collaborative efforts from biologists and other specialists with expertise potentially related to the Genesee River and its systemic relationship to Lake Ontario. There are also a number of new grants that could potentially be used to support projects directed at the sections of the Genesee River targeted by the Genesee River Wilds Project. For example, from the “Interagency Funding Guide” one could cite (especially ones with an asterisk [*]): Page 2, Coordinated Implementation on Remedial Action Program; Page 3, Pollution Prevention and Toxics Reduction in the Great Lakes; Page 3, Toxicant TMDL Development; Page 6, Development of Ecosystem Services; Page 6, Emergency Watershed Protection Program *(especially appropriate for upper Genesee River); Page 6, Environmental Quality Incentives Program, non-point source pollution; Page 6, Farm and Ranch Land Protection Program; Page 6, Great Lakes Basin Program for Soil Erosion and Sediment Control; Page 7, Watersheds Best Management Practices; Page 8, Great Lakes Habitat Restoration Program; Page 9, Great Lakes Basin Candidate Fish Habitat Partnership *(especially appropriate for upper Genesee River because it emphasizes restoring “tributary” fish habitat and removing related impediments, no match required); Page 9, Great Lakes Basin Endangered Species Recovery *(despite improvement in status of bald eagle, this still might be relevant to the identifiable bald eagles’ nest north of Belmont and related habitat at other points along upper Genesee River); Page 9, Great Lakes Watershed Habitat and Species Restoration Initiative *(especially appropriate for the upper Genesee River because it explicitly addresses “stream banks,” includes “brook trout,” and is relevant to other species in this area, such as the bald eagles that make their home along Genesee River); Page 10, North American Wetlands Conservation Act; Page 10, Ecosystem Approach to Infrastructure and Restoration Work *(ideally suited for Genesee River Wilds Project’s interest in developing nature parks with boating access points at bridges because it emphasizes eco-system approach to transportation infrastructure); Page 10, Environmental Quality Incentives Program, habitat and wildlife protection and restoration *(especially appropriate for upper Genesee River); Page 11, Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program *(especially appropriate for upper Genesee River). Other potentially relevant items include Page 1, Toxic Substances in Brownfield Sites (e.g., Sinclair Oil Refinery in Wellsville, NY); Page 11, Sustain Our Great Lakes.
This new federal funding source offers a unique opportunity to clean up Lake Ontario by developing a strategy for the entire Genesee River as a whole. This would include the need to address the long-neglected upper Genesee River, not just the areas around its mouth that have received so much more attention in the Great Lakes Legacy Act and in other conservation efforts. But this will not be accomplished if securing funds depends on the limited staffing, technical expertise, and political clout available to my colleagues in the sparsely populated hillsides and small rural v
illages along the upper Genesee River. The Genesee River Wilds Project needs the expertise, technical skills, and resources of better-equipped outside agencies and large non-profit organizations proactively brought to bear by leaders in these groups who can see how protecting the upper Genesee River fits into the bigger conservation picture. Recent news suggests that New York is indeed thinking more collaboratively and comprehensively, but I urge that these discussions include a much bolder effort to improve the upper Genesee River than in previous generations.
(6) Developments on the Pennsylvania side:
Given that only about ten miles of any given one of the source streams of the Genesee River are in Pennsylvania, it is somewhat ironic that in some ways PA has been more proactive in adopting many of the goals of the Genesee River Wilds Project. Partly this is because PA takes a much more centralized approach to conservation that is less dependent on local initiative. Thus already in the spring of 2008, discussions of the project had been shuttled from regional officers in the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (PA DCNR) to its Harrisburg headquarters. This allowed plans for the inter-state multi-use trail that is part of the Genesee River Wilds Project to be incorporated into PA’s statewide-plan for developing recreational greenway trails in all 67 counties in the state. Planning commission officials in Williamsport, PA, and its county (Lycoming County) also expressed support for the Genesee River Wilds Project at an early stage because the plans for a multi-use inter-state trail system would result in an economically productive trail reaching from Rochester, NY, to Williamsport, PA. But support for the Genesee River Wilds Project in PA is not limited to the state or broader regional level. State conservation agency officials in PA were able to recruit local support in rural communities because conservation projects in PA are consistently and seamlessly combined with development of recreational infrastructure and other features that aggressively promote tourism and economic development in such communities. This is admittedly easier to do in PA than in NY because the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (PA DCNR) strategically combines in one agency the missions of conservation and recreation, which New York State relegates to two separate agencies (NYSDEC and NYSOPRHP). Thus eager support for connecting the Pine Creek Trail system in PA to the Genesee River Wilds Project trail system and related trails in NY quickly emerged among some of the community leaders in rural Potter County, PA, which nurtures the sources of the Genesee River. Individuals in this county needed little convincing about the economic potential of the Genesee River Wilds Project because over the last few decades they have witnessed the stunning success of the nearby Pine Creek Trail in dramatically transforming the economy of neighboring rural counties in PA (most notably PA’s Tioga County, where the advantages of combining conservation and recreation are visibly demonstrated by the burgeoning economy of the small town of Wellsboro). As a result, one of my colleagues in NY (Sherry Grugel) was invited to a Pine Creek Watershed planning session in Potter County, PA, and benefitted from the suggestions of friends in PA who are interested in the Genesee River Wilds Project. Developments in PA have reached a stage in which I am confident that the project’s goals for the PA side will be completed, even if the current problems with the state budget slow progress down a bit.
(7) One final note on why development of recreational infrastructure is just important to the Genesee River Wilds Project as conservation:
As already mentioned and as is clear from our budget, the Genesee River Wilds Project emphasizes the development of recreational infrastructure that can be used for promotion of tourism. This strategy for recruiting local allies for river conservation in rural communities emerged from direct negotiations with local people in these communities. Emphasis on recreational business development and tourism associated with the project’s proposed forested conservation buffer along the Genesee River helped us to alleviate local concerns that creating this buffer might result in loss of revenues from property taxes and agricul
ture. Even many of the farmers who own land along the Genesee River have joined in supporting us because of their own families’ needs for more economic opportunities. These developments in NY and the greater speed with which the project’s goals have been adopted in PA illustrate why we continue to insist on our rather pragmatic approach to conservation. More idealistic approaches emphasizing “pure” conservation without accompanying recreational development of protected lands are ultimately counterproductive because they do not recruit as many local allies in the rural communities that guard most of our country’s natural resources.
I trust that the information in this note and its attachments is helpful. Some of recipients of this note have expressed support for the Genesee River Wilds Project, but any who would like to have their names and organizational contact information listed on the “Contacts” page of our website should let me know. This will make collaboration easier.
All the best in your own work in protecting the Genesee River and Lake Ontario.
Allen Kerkeslager, Ph.D.
Saint Joseph’s University
Preferred paper mailing address (home address):
833 Fairfax Road
Drexel Hill, PA 19026