By Michael Regan email@example.com
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — After a long and harsh winter, boaters began dipping their proverbial feet in the waters of Western New York this week, as the Tonawandas ready for the kick-off of another season.
Several municipalities started their official launch last week, as Canadians streamed in to the region for their own Memorial Day celebrations held a week earlier than the states.
But as the unofficial start of summer moves in locally this weekend, with Memorial Day observances coupled with an extra day off for many, officials said they are prepared for a busy summer, underscored by their growing waterfront reputations.
Larry Kuebler, the North Tonawanda Gateway Harbor master, said the city has seen a payoff for that reputation in recent years. Since 2011 it’s gross take off boater fees in the Erie Canal have jumped from roughly $14,000 to $26,000.
But Kuebler said he believes those numbers have as much to do with efficiency as the Lumber City’s popularity, with a bolstered workforce, a new permanent fee station as well as the attractions of the downtown corridor.
“Our operation is not under a tent anymore we put in a permanent office,” he said. “And our system has been restructured. The employees are very persistent collecting fees and we pick up a lot more money because these guys go out every half an hour.”
While official numbers weren’t readily available this week on the City of Tonawanda side of the canal, Mayor Rick Davis said that the harbor there also opened earlier than usual to accommodate the Canadian traffic. He noted that discussions are ongoing about opening even earlier next year, depending on weather.
“We’ve talked about the possibility of opening Gateway and some of the other parks early for next year and future years,” he said. “There’s a ton of potential.”
The Town of Tonawanda Small Boat Harbor opened its boating season Friday at the foot of Sheridan Drive. Dan Crangle, a town councilman, said the town would be offering senior citizens who are residents a reduced season pass.
“Any resident senior age 60 and over with proof of age and residency qualifies for this pass,” he said.
Kuebler, who recently retired as the city’s Parks and Recreation maintenance supervisor, said the extended cold weather this winter did make life difficult for a while, though the effort will pay off long term.
“We had to wait for the ice boom to come out,” he said. “It rushed the start of the season. Memorial Day had always been the kick-off of our boating season. But we opened early the last two years. It’s worth it.”