As initiatives to improve water and sediment quality slowly continue to advance, plans for swimmable beaches along Buffalo’s waterfront have come more and more into focus in recent years. However, there are several more barriers in the way of a Buffalo beachfront than water quality alone; literally.Countless break-walls and breakwaters line the Lake Erie waterfront and prevent natural sand and waves from filtering onto the lakefront. Some break-walls have collected large amounts of sand and sediment over the years, including the Erie Basin. These areas suggest that a simple “sand-catcher” could be constructed along the Buffalo waterfront and filter natural Lake sand into a selected area along the freshwater shoreline.
Memorial Day weekend has often been referred to as the unofficial kickoff to the Summer beach season in Western New York. Seated on one of the largest freshwater sources in the world, Buffalo can count miles of shoreline, but does not exhibit any sandy, swimmable beaches within the city limits.
A quick look at Chicago’s waterfront (pictured below) and this idea seems very feasible. At one time Buffalo’s lakefront was dotted with natural sand dunes and sand bars. Located at the northeastern end of Lake Erie, Buffalo sits on the edge of the longest freshwater-fetch in the world. Winds and currents provide large waves that can reach up to 20ft+ in height, and filter smooth, soft sand onto the banks and shores of the lake.
A jump across the border and beaches line the entire “south coast” of Canada (Lake Erie’s northern shoreline). Here we see a glimpse of what Buffalo was like before the industrial boom that ripped apart the entire natural coastline fronting Lake Erie. Today, Buffalo is no longer an industrial behemoth, but projects to restore the waterfront into more of a cultural and touristic hub have moved from paper to reality. Now is the perfect time to realize the potential of Buffalo’s waterfront. Lake Erie holds the key to Buffalo’s future.
Below is a concept rendering of what I call, “Lasalle Beach.” Lasalle Park is located on a former bluff where sand dunes were once abundant. Today, few, if any natural elements remain on its banks. This rendering portrays several “sand-catchers” that would filter in natural lake sand and, in addition, alleviate any concern of fast-moving currents in this area. It would become Buffalo’s first sandy, swimmable beach, that wouldn’t cost a fortune to create. Since sand would naturally filter in, maintenance would be minimal, except to perhaps remove driftwood and other debris once or twice a year. The proposal below shows a “master-plan” that would include a boardwalk, new public restrooms/washrooms, and an area for a food shack and local vendors to set up. The “New Condo Towers” represent potential development in the future that could present a new backdrop to the park, and provide more critical mass in this section of the city on the edge of downtown.
Eventually the boardwalk could become a permanent “midway” and feature an arcade, games, numerous food options, etc. Lasalle Beach could become the new hot-spot in Western New York and attract thousands of visitors, young and old every year to enjoy the best of what our waterfront has to offer.
Ideally, several of the breakwalls would come down so that swimmers and sightseers would have an unobstructed view of the Lake, all the way to the horizon. In addition, removing some of these would help bring waves and sand back to the beach, which would create a much more natural environment that would likely aid in the sustainability of the new beachfront.
However, there remains one more hurdle that does require significant funding. While the Lake itself has improved significantly in chemical and industrial waste concentrations, sewage continues to threaten water quality, especially during heavy rainfall. Billions of gallons of raw sewage flow into the Lake every year and cause random beach closings throughout the year at numerous beaches across the Lake Erie shoreline. This is due in part by aging sewer systems that are difficult to manage and expensive to fix. As a source of drinking water for over 10 million residents, this proposes a hefty concern not only for our beaches, but our water supply as well. One can only hope that someday these systems will be replaced and that contaminated runoff no longer inundates our greatest natural resource.
It is important to note that the lake is not always contaminated by sewage. Only during large rainstorms or system failures does water quality quickly deteriorate and pose a threat to swimmers. That is why Lasalle Beach has a very strong potential to become a reality within the next few years. It’s time to take back our waterfront and create an attraction that has been long overdue for our regional community. This has the potential to become an image-changer in itself. But, is this even a feasible approach to take back our historic beachfront?