On the Waterfront: Celebrating Along The Buffalo River

Riverfest Opens Friday As The Italian Fest Moves to The Outer Harbor

Dave Debo
July 13, 2017 - 7:47 am

TheValleyCenter.com Photo

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(WBEN) The Buffalo River Fest starts it's  three day run  on Ohio Street this weekend, giving Buffalo a chance to celebrate what neighbors and nature  carved out from once abandoned land and a polluted river. 

And while many will gather to enjoy summertime along the banks of the Buffalo River, for others it will be another chance to  reflect on how a community pushed back against  fences and contamination that kept people from doing so in years past. 

"I was a kid. I grew up in the neighborhood. And there was no way you could get anywhere near the river. With fences and old industrial wasteland and piles of debris," says Peg Overdorf, the Valley Community Association's executive director, who first had the idea for the waterfront site in 2005."

By contrast this weekend, the  Buffalo RiverFest will feature hundreds listening to live bands , taking in a waterfront photo display or going on historic walking tours. A belated Father’s Day fishing contest, and rides on Buffalo's fireboat The EM Cotter are also featured, along with a homemade raft regatta.    SEE SCHEDULE AND MORE HERE

It occurs the same weekend as The  Italian Heritage Festival debuts at the Outer Harbor after years of being held along Hertel Avenue. That larger-scale event is expected to bring thousands to the mouth of the river, while Overdorf and others celebrate further upstream. And while Overdorf has some long term concerns about the scarcity of neighborhood parking as development moves in, she's quick to notice the contrast from years ago. 

" I saw the decline mostly in the 60s and 70s,  a lot of vacant property and you couldn't get near the river. And it wasn't until we built the park and a boardwalk and trailways, that people actually felt comfortable going close to the water," Overdorf says, 

TheValleyCenter.com Photo
The 3-acre park  in the shadow of the Michigan Street lift bridge features boat docks, a wharf, a boardwalk, trails and gardens, and a band shell that will ring with live music this weekend.  It offers sweeping views of the waterway, where grain freighters occasionally still serve the General Mills plant near by.

" When we built the park, we were the first ones on Ohio Street, it was pretty much an environmental nightmare. And we built the park with a series of grants, with millions of dollars. And then we built the Tewkesbury Lodge , and since then the economic development has been astronomical," she says. 

As interest in Canalside and Buffalo's Outer Harbor rose, the city came in with infrastructure improvements along Ohio Street.  Developers took notice. Two apartment complexes are rising near the park, just south of the Michigan Street Lift bridge.  Someone nearby has built a new $100,000 home, Overdorf says. 

 The festival  begins at 6 pm and lasts until midnight Friday , and continues from 11 am to midnight six to midnight Saturday and 11 to midnight Sunday.

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