Last week I happened to be driving past a familiar landmark in downtown Rochester, the Times-Square Building at the corner of Exchange and Broad streets.
Last week I happened to be driving past a familiar landmark in downtown Rochester, the Times-Square Building at the corner of Exchange and Broad streets. I was also listening on the radio to someone saying our economic crisis could stop the state takeover of Rochester’s 1,700 acres of near-wilderness around Canadice and Hemlock Lakes.
It was an interesting convergence, reminding me of the building’s history. Workers laid the cornerstone on Oct. 29, 1929. They finished construction in 1930, at the start of the Great Depression. The massive “Wings of Victory” crowning the building became a great symbolic touch, a promise for the future: Dark times do not last forever. Life goes on.
That is something to remember as Rochester Mayor Robert Duffy and Region 8 DEC Commissioner Paul D’Amato race to complete to the Canadice-Hemlock deal before state budget-cutters in Albany squash the whole thing.
This deal has been in the works, on and off, for 40-some years — and now, we’ve hit the crisis stage. Rochester is desperately hurting for money. It is home to the largest concentration of poor families in our region, its businesses have long been fleeing to the suburbs, and its schools are in shambles.
Selling the magnificent lands around Canadice and Hemlock would bring in millions of dollars. If the city cannot sell to the state, Duffy and City Council might have to do what none of them wants — start selling pieces of property to developers who have long been waiting in the wings.
Canadice and Hemlock, the only two Finger Lakes that are not ringed by cottages and homes, could eventually suffer the same fate as the others.
Gov. Paterson is in a terrible position too. No governor in the last several decades has succeeded in reining in state spending in any meaningful way. Most state legislators — those friendly people we re-elect every two years — are not really even interested. Now, with a possible depression on the horizon, Paterson absolutely must find ways to make the state live within its means.
Still, the state budget does include some expenditures that, if cut or even delayed now, would represent irretrievable losses to future generations. The Canadice-Hemlock deal is among them.
For more than a century, the City of Rochester, which gets part of its water supply from the two lakes, has done a magnificent job of preserving and protecting the shorelines and surrounding hillsides.
New York City, which owns similar lake reservoirs in the Catskills, bars the public from those areas. Rochester welcomes hunters, fishers, hikers, and canoeists. Under the proposed plan, the state would continue to maintain the area as a public preserve.
The forests, meadows, and wetlands around the two lakes are home to black bears, bald eagles, osprey, otters, fox and huge varieties of songbirds. On the western shore of Hemlock grows one of our state’s few stands of old-growth forest. Those who explore the hidden coves around the lakes and the steep hills rising above them find magnificent solitude, approaching that of the Adirondacks.
On an early autumn morning a few years ago, I got up well before dawn, grabbed a camera, and, along with a young nephew who was visiting from out of town, paddled a canoe out to a patch of Swamp Smartweed on Hemlock Lake that I had scouted a couple of days earlier.
We sat and waited while the sky slowly turned from black to bluish grey. A few streaks of red and yellow appeared. Then, suddenly, the sun popped over the hills to the east, illuminating the fiery red blooms against the receding mists of the night. It was as if we were present at the Creation.
Construction of the Times Square Building was an act of confidence, a promise to the future.
Now we too are making promises to the future — whether they be for better or for worse. The loss of Canadice and Hemlock for suburban development or second homes would be forever.
What a shame if we let that happen.
Dan Hall is the retired editorial page editor of Messenger Post Newspapers. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.