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Habitat Restoration Helps to Strengthen Resilience of Waterfront Park in Buffalo, New York

May 28, 2024

As part of a large-scale effort to redesign a waterfront park, NOAA funding is helping to improve the resilience of an eroding shoreline and create habitat for native Great Lakes fish.

Aerial view of construction along a shoreline in an urban park As part of a larger effort to revitalize a waterfront park in Buffalo, NOAA funding is helping to create new habitat and improve shoreline resilience. Credit: John R. Witt Photography/Ralph Wilson Park Conservancy.

In Buffalo, New York, an effort is underway to transform the city’s largest waterfront park and better connect the local community to the Niagara River. This expansive project is completely redesigning and reconstructing the 100-acre former LaSalle Park into the new Ralph Wilson Park. NOAA funding is helping to build coastal wetland habitat and restore the shoreline in a portion of the park. This will protect the area from storms and flooding while providing habitat for native Great Lakes fish. 

Building a Community Vision

Located along the shore where the Niagara River meets Lake Erie, the park offers visitors waterfront views, walking and biking trails, and other amenities such as sports fields and a dog park. Since it first opened in the 1930s, the park has been an asset to the community—but there were also areas for improvement. A highway separates the park from nearby neighborhoods, making it difficult for those living closest to easily and safely get to the park. The park boasts nearly a mile of waterfront shoreline, but there was no water access available for activities such as boating and fishing. The hardened shoreline also limited the amount of habitat available to fish and wildlife. 

The park has also been plagued by a history of flooding. As winds and waves move across western Lake Erie, they pick up strength, get funneled toward the mouth of the Niagara River, and collide with the park shoreline. This caused severe erosion and flooding, and the concrete seawall started to deteriorate. With climate change causing stronger and more frequent storms, the park needed a change to improve the resilience and safety of the shoreline.

In 2018, lead funding from the Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation led to the creation of “Imagine LaSalle”—a community-led initiative to transform the park. With input from more than 1,200 community members and stakeholders, partners worked to design a park that better meets the needs of the community. The $110 million effort will include new and refreshed amenities, public access to the water, and a new pedestrian bridge that will safely connect the community to the park and the waterfront. The Ralph Wilson Park Conservancy is a not-for-profit organization created to see through the community’s transformative vision for the waterfront park. 

Waves buffet a concrete seawall
NOAA funding is helping to remove a portion of the seawall and replace it with new coastal wetland habitat. Credit: NOAA Fisheries.

Supporting Fisheries and Climate Resilience

As part of the larger effort, NOAA has provided more than $13 million to the Great Lakes Commission through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. The funding is helping to remove the collapsing seawall and improve the resilience of the shoreline. New areas of coastal wetlands will provide habitat for fish and other species, while also helping to filter pollution and protect the area from flooding. Shoals will also be constructed to help protect the new wetlands and restored shoreline from waves and erosion. 

This habitat restoration work is a step toward the eventual removal of the Niagara River from the list of Great Lakes Areas of Concern. These are areas where a waterway’s poor conditions are affecting the environment, human health, and the local economy. The Niagara River was declared an Area of Concern in the late 1980s due to a number of issues, including the loss of fish and wildlife habitat. NOAA’s work in the Great Lakes helps to restore these degraded areas and provide habitat for Great Lakes fisheries.

A Partnership Effort

NOAA’s habitat restoration work is just one piece of this multifaceted effort to transform the waterfront. Dozens of partners have been involved throughout the planning, design, and construction process, including:

  • The City of Buffalo
  • New York State
  • Ralph C. Wilson, Jr. Foundation
  • Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper
  • Great Lakes Commission
  • Buffalo Urban Development Corporation 
  • New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
  • U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
  • Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo
  • University of Buffalo Regional Institute
  • Additional partners