It’s a nice summer day. You’re on the Tioughnioga, kayaking from Homer to, maybe, Cortland. You get hungry. The smell of grilled salmon wafts past your nose. You pull to the shore and pick up a snack.
From there, you head past Yaman Park. The trails and paths into the city are easy to use and well-marked. You find several restaurants have been established on or near the river, and eventually you make your way downtown.
It’s a real vision, outlined 15 years ago. Most of the steps to encourage the development it promised along the 34.2-mile river that stretches from Cuyler and Tully to Whitney Point never came to fruition.
However, the 2006 Tioughnioga Local Waterfront Revitalization Program is being dusted off and updated. Along the way, planners saw that while some municipalities adopted some of the projects the plan outlined, many were left by the shore.
The program was never formally adopted, said Rich Cunningham, the president and senior consultant of Thoma Development Consultants, the firm hired to create the report 15 years ago, and to update it now.
Communities have been revisiting and updating their parts of the report for an updated version that expected to come out next year.
How much each municipality does, remains to be seen, as the project is still in planning stages.
But it may provide an outline for growing municipalities economically and providing more recreational opportunities.
“To ignore it wouldn’t be a sound approach to growing our communities,” said Garry VanGorder, the executive director of the Cortland County Business Development Corp.
A VISION, A PLAN
The genesis of the program involving Cortland County communities began about a year or two prior to its completion in 2006, said Cunningham. The Cortland County Industrial Development Agency and Business Development Corp. were looking at ways to best utilize the Tioughnioga River.
“We’ve always been interested in the waterfront as a development opportunity,” VanGorder said.
To develop a program for how to best use the waterfront, the city of Cortland and the IDA hired Thoma to research, analyze and develop a plan for $90,000, most of which came from grant funding. Such a plan would outline land and water uses in a framework to both encourage development — industrial, retail, agricultural or recreational — while preserving the environment around the river.
In developing the program, 12 Cortland County municipalities were involved: Cortland, Cortlandville, Cuyler, town of Homer, Lapeer, the town and village of Marathon, McGraw, Preble, Truxton and Virgil.
The program report’s in December 2006 suggested projects to remove blighted structures, improve downtown connections to waterfront and increase fishing opportunities and access points.
Some projects came to fruition, Cunningham said, such as the boat launch site at Lovell Field in Marathon. The removal of blighted structures along Route 11 in Homer to make way for a linear part, which would fall under the program, is underway as well.
Many, however, never came to pass. When the city failed to adopt it, the plan was left to gather dust.
That’s not to say the municipalities didn’t want to implement it, Cunningham said, but no one took charge.
“It just sort of didn’t happen,” he said.
The 2006 report
To view the 2006 report, visit tinyurl.com/cxjxrx3k. Among its recommendations:
- Develop land-use management to preserve existing open space, protect the environment, focus development into existing developed areas.
- Create bufferse between shorelines and agricultural uses to alleviate pollution and erosion.
- Support active agricultural use.
- Reclaim abandoned gravel mines.
- Complete a historic resource survey.
- Strengthen the connection between city and village downtowns and the river.
- Seek designation for a scenic byway along major highways.
- Develop design guidelines for commercial properties.
- Develop multi-use trails.
- Increase public fishing areas in Cuyler and Truxton.
- Build a boat launch at Yaman Park., in Messengerville and Blodgett Mills.
- Build a water recreation part near Interstate 81’s Exit 11.
- Create a bike lane along Route 281 in Preble and Homer.
- Upgrade or replace the dam at Little York Lake.
- Remove blighted buildings along Route 11 near Homer.
- Develop restaurants on River Street in Cortland, along the river in downtown Homer and Cortland or Mill streets in Marathon.
‘A GOOD OPPORTUNITY’
Fifteen years later, the city still serves as lead agency as the program is being updated and revitalized, said Cortland Mayor Brian Tobin.
“We’re looking at it with fresh eyes,” he said, but plans are still in the earliest stages. “I’m enthusiastic about getting started.”
Tobin was not sure as to why the program wasn’t adopted following the completion of the report in 2006. Then-Mayor Thomas Gallagher, the city’s mayor from 2000 to 2009, could not be reached for comment.
It will be at least a year before the city has its part completed, but some work, such as a small walking trail near Riverside Plaza along the river, have been created to enhance accessibility along the river and improve the attractiveness of the city’s entryway near Interstate 81.
“It just makes it more attractive,” Tobin said.
A boat launch at Yaman Park also has been created, he said, further utilizing the river as a recreational source, and improving recreational opportunities is a goal.
PARK BY THE WATER
In Homer, the village has completed its outline of areas it wants to utilize through the program but is waiting on Cortland, the lead agency, said Village Clerk Dan Egnor.
“All the communities that are along there, it should be a coordinated effort,” he said.
Nothing from the 2006 report has been implemented in the village, Egnor added, though some parts are connected to other ongoing projects.
In the report, one of the projects calls for the removal of blighted structures along Route 11 near the border of the village and the town of Cortlandville.
Egnor said the village received about $350,000 in funding, purchased some of those old buildings and plans to demolish them to make way for a linear park to provide greater access to the river, a key component of the program.
Additionally, the village may look to have access points along the river for people to get off and access the village, he said. This, in turn, would help with downtown revitalization.
RESTAURANTS BY THE WATER
In Cortlandville, the question is around what funding sources can be used to complete the report, said Town Supervisor Tom Williams.
Work was also delayed because the COVID-19 pandemic pushed the program to the backburner, he said.
“We’re trying to figure out how to run town hall and that is more important than the comprehensive plan and this,” Williams said. Now that the pandemic is more under control, the program will be revived.
As Williams sees it, the town’s participation in the project will be an economic benefit.
“It’s the same thing as Gutchess Lumber Sports Complex,” he said. “It’s something that brings people to Cortland.”
Having people use the river in Cortlandville could also help present economic opportunities, he said, much like Oswego as an example, where restaurants line the Oswego River leading downtown.
SAME VISION, NEW PLAN?
While much of the program and projects within it lay dormant for the past 15 years, work has begun to update and renew the program, Cunningham said, starting with the city’s application in 2019 for state funding to update it.
This time though, only Cortland, the village and town of Homer, Cortlandville and the village of Marathon are involved.
“These are the communities that could most benefit from participation,” Cunningham said, because the other municipalities don’t have as many water access points.
Thoma is now working to update an inventory analysis section that considers:
- Historic resources.
- Economic development.
- Flooding issues.
- Open space and recreation.
- Topography and water quality.
It will also update more recent developments, such as solar developments and wind farms, which weren’t part of the original report, he said.
Cunningham said he hopes the inventory analysis report will be completed by the fall and have public comment afterward.
Completion of the new program though will still be at least a year or more, he said, for the completion of the other sections for the report of the program, public hearings and adoptions.
Adoption of the new report, though, will be important in securing state funding for project implementation.
“It will keep it current with some of the things happening in the community,” Cunningham said.