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March 20, 2012 - 10:16pm

New boat launch may help revive the Tonawanda as a recreational asset for Batavia

posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, recreation, Tonawanda Creek.

This summer, the Town of Batavia will build a small boat launch -- for canoes and kayaks -- behind Kiwanis Park, giving visitors and local residents a way to easily access the Tonawanda Creek between the city and East Pembroke.

There was a time -- in the early 20th Century -- when the Tonawanda in Batavia was more favored by local residents seeking recreation.

Officials with the town and the Soil and Water Conservation District hope the boat launch is just one more piece in place toward transforming the small river into a recreational asset again.

"We definitely want to encourage recreational use," said George Squires, conservation district manager. "Canoeing, kayaking, fishing, taking a look at nature -- there's a whole lot of things going on along the creek that people probably won't see if they aren't paddling along the creek somewhere."

The boat launch is being paid for with a $6,000 grant secured by the conversation district.

The town is supplying the design and engineering work.

Tom Lichtenthal, assistant town engineer and highway superintendent, said it will take two months to complete the permits.

Squires said he's hoping for a July 4th opening.

The launch will be constructed along an inlet stream that runs between Kiwanis Park and the former location of the Batavia Motel (acquired by the Town of Batavia).

Lichtenthal explained that there will be a path from the parking lot down to the water and a stone launch for the boats.

Only small boats will be allowed to use the launch. If the boat needs to be hauled by a trailer, it's too big.

While it's not part of the plan, Lichtenthal said he dreams of the day there might be funding to create a walking path -- or paving for bikes, too -- from River Street in the city to East Pembroke.

Some time in the middle part of the 20th Century, the creek apparently lost some of its appeal for recreational use.

Squires suspects property owners who adjoin the publicly owned waterway and creek banks restricted access.

Or it could have been the dredging of the creek, making its banks steeper and therefore harder to access.

Lictenthal -- and Squires says it was a problem -- suspects foul water from the previous wastewater plant kept people away.

Twenty years ago, the city -- with cooperation from the town -- installed a lagoon-style wastewater plant, meaning the water from the sewer plant is much, much cleaner by the time it's piped to the creek.

"We can point to a definite improvement in the creek," Squires said. "The water quality wasn't as good before the city upgraded the sewage system and that deterred some people from thinking of doing things on the creek. Now, the creek is in pretty good shape."

The access, Lichtenthal explained, will help return a "natural element" to the creek and hopefully be inviting enough for people to make good use of the launch.

The new boat launch will give people access to the creek from the dam behind the courthouse (if people want to paddle upstream and then drift back to the launch), down to the falls in East Pembroke (and people will need to paddle upstream to get back to the launch).

At some point, town officials would like to provide a second launch downstream in East Pembroke so boaters can travel downstream and not worry about getting back to the launch upstream.

There's also a launch behind Kibbe Park in the city -- that Lichtenthal said is hard to access and use -- but because of the falls behind the courthouse, it won't be possible for boaters to start in the city and end at the town's new launch.

Photo from the book "Batavia," by Barbara Ann Toal. In 1910, two brothers built three boats capable of carrying recreational passengers on the Tonawanda Creek. The Bluebelle, above, was destroyed in a flood in 1922.


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