WNY Community Support Needed for Scoby Dam Project

By Alicia Dziak

The chills and thrills of whitewater adventure are potentially closer than you think. A whitewater park is in the planning phase by Springville Whitewater Park (SWWP) for Springville’s Scoby Dam Park, which lies in Erie County, right near the border of Cattaraugus County, off Route 219.

The Scoby Dam currently holds back too much water and in the event of a flood, it could fail; the present structure is aging and in disrepair and has to be removed. Additionally, the dam prevents ecological development of fish. Because of these concerns, the project has become a joint effort of the DEC, the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) and Erie County Parks. The new dam will be lowered to 10 feet high, with a gated channel, and will have a passage of 600 feet in length.

“We are proposing a betterment to the project, which will include the whitewater park in this space,” said Jeff Morreale, American Whitewater Northeast representative and executive director of Springville Whitewater Park.

And for those who aren’t avid whitewater enthusiasts, just what exactly is a whitewater park?

Whitewater parks are parks where paddlers, standup paddle boarders, tubers and other whitewater aficionados can park and play at standing river wave features. In addition to this recreational use, the parks serve as multiple-use river restoration projects with structures created that make eddies and pools used for fishing, and fish habitat improvements. The parks also create riverbank vegetation restoration, prevent bank erosion and offer access for activities like hiking and picnicking, as well as provide use for river ecology and conservation education, and a swift water rescue training site for rescue teams.

While various grants are available, at this point, it comes down to Erie County’s interest in adding the whitewater park to the project.

According to Morreale, “There are no roadblocks to the betterment plan they are proposing in that the dam is being removed by the USACE, with a fish passage channel required by the NYS DEC, which creates a golden opportunity with a project already in place that they are trying to add recreation to. Other communities with existing parks have had to fight legislation to get dangerous, low head dams removed to build parks.”

The Springville Whitewater Park has discussed their plan with the project managers at the USACE, NYS DEC and Erie County, and the betterment plans supports their goals for fish passage, dam safety, a lamprey invasive species barrier and eco system restoration.

“The only issue is that recreation can’t be federally funded,” added Morreale. “Therefore, the money for a betterment of recreation would have to come from New York State, or privately funded. Erie County has told the organization that there is money for the project, but the group doesn’t agree with available funding as the Cattaraugus (Creek) recently being added to the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, the EPA Great Lakes Restoration Projects, Urban Waters Federal Partnership, and the Cuomo Buffalo Billion. With Governor Cuomo having whitewater raft races each year trying to get tourism in upstate New York and is giving the Buffalo region $1 billion, this would be a great way to get tourism in WNY and support his goals.”

If all goes according to “plan,” the whitewater park, complete with fully accessible put-ins and take-outs above and below the dam, would be open in summer 2017.

While nearby Zoar Valley offers many whitewater opportunities, a whitewater park in Springville would create opportunities when Zoar Valley’s water levels are low, and would be a park and play option for those with limited time or those trying to learn,  providing more offerings and a longer season for whitewater enthusiasts. Additionally, the park would have a positive impact on the ecosystem and  those who enjoy spending their time fishing or relaxing along the banks of the Cattaraugus Creek.

Western New Yorkers love the great outdoors, and part of that is because of the diverse ways they have to enjoy it. A whitewater park would only add to the array of opportunities available to locals and tourists.

And just how can this versatile park become a reality?

“We are running out of time before Erie County decides to go ahead with the current scheduled project, which could be within the next few months, and we really need the WNY community, local businesses and our higher elected officials to realize the potential of what a whitewater park could bring to our region, and help us with acquiring funding and getting our betterment added to the project,” Morreale said.

For more information, visit www.springvillewhitewater.org or www.facebook.com/pages/Springville-Whitewater-Park.