The Buffalo River was a summer recreation hotspot Thursday, as a cruise boat carried a crowd celebrating 25 years of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, a key agency in turning a one-time industrial sewer into a waterway with kayaks, canoes, motorboats and sailboats.
When the original Friends of the Buffalo River was founded, the river was a mess. Lynda Schneekloth was one of the people who started the agency which became Riverkeeper. It's an agency just finishing supervising a $100 million river cleanup, with more to come.
Schneekloth says the founders wanted to make a difference.
"You wouldn't have invested that kind of time and energy into a polluted, dirty river if you didn't think there was some possibility for the transformation of it. So, it has taken everybody else a long time to catch up to what the vision was," Schneekloth said.
"I think that's the way we think about it. Of course we were going to take care of the pollution. We were going to be able to regenerate and now everybody's on board and it's very, very exciting."
As the cruise boat Grand Lady went down the river from RiverWorks, along Buffalo Harbor State Park and then back past Canalside, Schneekloth stood at the rail and watched. Executive Director Jill Jedlicka says the river tells the story of the region.
"The story of the Buffalo River is the story of this region. It was the reason why our city was here to begin with, because of this waterway. But, our use and abuse of it almost killed it, just as it started to destroy our economy. But, now you see recovery happening simply because the consciousness has been raised and people want connections and they want clean water," said Jedlicka.
Doug Swift was on board talking of the days when he was too young to realize the awful water quality he was water skiing in along the river 45 years ago. Now, Swift is a partner in RiverWorks, the $20 million conversion of an old industrial site along Ganson Street into a year-round tourism attraction.
"Pretty much what was there two years ago, when we started. There was empty grain silos. There was a small office building and a couple of large warehouses that were being used for a variety of light industrial uses, after the GLF operation closed," Swift said.
On Thursday, RiverWorks was an attraction as people ate and drank overlooking the river in a building which operates ice rinks in the winter for hockey above the rapidly cleaning river.