Another year, another idea for a blog. I was conversing with my friend (also named Chris) who now lives in New York City, about some good places to take a summer stroll in Buffalo after work. What surprised me was the ease at which we rattled off place after place, all within about 10-15 minutes from my apartment. Elmwood Village, Hoyt Lake, Bird Island Pier (also known as The Break Wall), Tonawanda River Walk, Central Wharf, Outer Harbor…the list goes on and on. I eventually settled on the Break Wall, which I will write about below, but the idea itself brought up a whole new concept. When I mentioned the next day I was off to explore somewhere new, Chris said, “Look at you – Urban Explorer!”.
The term just seemed to fit so perfectly, and for some reason reminded me of an old book my parents used to have called “Beyond Buffalo” – a collection of hikes and jaunts across the WNY area, complete with pictures and suggestions. Even as a young, naïve resident of WNY back then, I still found the book very interesting, as many of the hikes and places to visit were right under your nose. Well, why not have something like “Beyond Buffalo” in blog form? We have plenty of great blogs already highlighting the city, but none that simply draw your eyes away from the everyday issues like politics, food, and shopping, and steer them towards the simple things you might walk by and ignore every day. We have Buffalo Rising, which can highlight hidden gems in Buffalo, but also focus a bit too much on politics for my taste, we have my friends Don and Alli over at Buffalo Eats, who cover the all important topic of FOOD in Buffalo, and even buffaBLOG, which focuses on underground and indie music in our great city. The blog list is endless, and hopefully this new idea can fit nicely into the preexisting lexicon.
This blog aims to be something a bit different. Rather than give a critical spin on something, I simply want to draw your attention to places, buildings, events, etc, that you may or may not be aware of, and give YOU the decision to check them out or not. Sure, many people know about Hoyt Lake – but do they know about the RC Boat Club that meets there during the summer? Of course there will be places that the majority of readers have been to, but maybe there is ONE person who hasn’t, or maybe someone who hasn’t been there in a decade and forgot it existed. One of the main reasons that I start a blog and quit it shortly after is because no one ever reads it. I’m hoping the motivational factor to keep this one going will be that at the very least, it will stand as a personal travelogue for me. I am going to post pictures, descriptions, and facts about a bunch of random places. I’m also hoping that you, the reader, will give me suggestions on places to check out. So let’s get to the first gem after the jump. Click on over:
Bird Island Pier (The Break Wall)
Note: The pictures included below aren’t mine. I didn’t snap any, since it was after I visited the pier that I decided to do this blog, so posts from here on out will have my own pictures.
If you’ve never been to Bird Island Pier, you’ve surely seen it as you drive on the I-190 underneath the Peace Bridge. Bird Island Pier is actually just a cement walkway situated on top of the break wall separating the Niagara River from the Black Rock channel – a two mile stretch that, if you make it to the end, gives you a very unique perspective of the Buffalo skyline. I was pretty excited to check out the Break Wall. I remember going there when I was very young, but well before I could truly appreciate the experience it provided. I frequently drive by it going back and forth between Kenmore and Orchard Park, and I’ve been itching to give it another try.
Getting to the break wall is pretty easy. Follow West Ferry Street all the way to the end, over Niagara Street (Rich Products is right on the corner). After an old bridge takes you over the Black Rock Channel, you’ll find yourself on Squaw Island. Broderick Park is on the right (an underrated park in its own right), and Bird Island Pier is on the left. On this beautiful Tuesday evening, there were actually a good amount of cars in the parking lot. As I made my way down the walkway, I immediately felt the nice breeze coming off the river. I also noticed the smell, which depending on how you feel about lake water and fish, might either turn you off or give you that sense of freedom you get on the open water.
Speaking of fish, there were people fishing everywhere. I was probably the only one walking the break wall that didn’t have a fishing pole in hand. I did not witness a catch, but it must be a decent spot since there were some hardcore fishermen with bait buckets and everything. I was simply enjoying the feeling of almost walking on water. It is definitely cool to feel so separated from everything when there is literally a major highway on one side, a foreign country on the other, and the Peace Bridge above your head. Speaking of the Peace Bridge, the pier definitely offers a view of the bridge that you’ve never seen before. Standing underneath it and looking up at the twisted steel is pretty neat.
Sadly on this day, the Peace Bridge was as far as I could go. There was a fence erected across the walkway, blocking the public from the remaining one and a half miles that still stretched down to the base of the downtown skyline. After speaking with one of the fishermen, it appears the Department of Environmental Conservation has shut down the remainder of the walkway, claiming it is “unsafe” to the public. The fisherman, who was in the process of bending his body around the fence, said he’s been all the way to the end, and besides a couple of cracks, hasn’t seen anything wrong with it. He said depending on the DEC officer, they may give you a ticket, but most will just tell you to leave. Considering you’re basically a sitting duck out on the water, I decided not to take the risk.
After I did some research, it looks like the fence has been up since winter, and the DEC lists the timeline of repair as “indefinite”. With the way government works, it is sad to think of the odds that the pier will never be fully open again, especially due to a few cracks in the cement. It also troubles me that an officer is being paid to patrol the pier, when the money should just go to some cement to get the thing fixed. Do they really think the current is just going to wash away a section of the wall?
If you’ve never been to Bird Island Pier, even the short 20 minutes it will take you to walk the open section of the wall is worth the trip. You can always head to the other side of the island at Broderick Park and explore as well. Hopefully the DEC gets their act together soon, so the rest of this hidden gem can be enjoyed.