You may not have noticed it on your casual stroll downtown, but slowly Canton has been cleaned up, preserved, and redeveloped by a small non-profit that hopes to spark economic growth and environmental preservation.
Many students and community members are familiar with Willow Island on Main Street. According to Town Supervisor David Button,this is the former site of a closed down gas station and hotel with severe contamination issues. Now it is a pristine park were families can have picnics or take their dog for a walk.
According to Peter Van De Water, the President of Grasse River Heritage Corporation (GRHC), this clean-up of “what, essentially was a toxic spill,” of petroleum cost over one million dollars. The GRHC organized the clean-up and many other projects. The clean-up was funded by the federal Brownfield Fund and overseen by the Department of Environmental Conservation, said Van De water.
GRHC is a small not-for-profit community based, redevelopment organization, and was the organizing force behind this environmental clean up Said Button. GRHC is comprised of a local board and their main focus is to clean-up and redevelop the waterfront sector in Canton, said Button.
“We are trying to remake the waterfront in Canton. We are doing it for aesthetic reasons, recreational reasons, and economic reasons,” said Van De Water.
Another major project of the GRHC was the clean-up of the Heritage Islands across Main Street from Willow island.
“Out on those islands before they got started there were a number of blighted buildings including a restaurant, lumber yard, gas station and Tauny’s old office,” said Ben Dixon, Coordinator of Regional Development and Sustainability at SLU.
Three grants; a New York Department of Transportation Grant, New York Parks and Recreation grant, and a grant from Sen. Wright for the preservation of the historic King steel truss bridge, said Dixon funded the clean-up. St. Lawrence assisted with the efforts by donating land as well as loaning $140,000 dollars to the project.
A walk around the island now features the nine historic sites that are preserved, left over from the turn of the century, said Van De Water.
“The Heritage Islands were the industrial heart of Canton at the turn of the century,” said Van De Water.
Another feature of the Heritage Island clean-up was the restoration of the King bowstring truss bridge. Zenas King was a bridge builder who was born and raised in St. Lawrence County and moved to Cleveland where he started his company. The bridge was picked up off of its foundation by a crane, restored, and then placed back for the opening of the park.
A third project the GRHC is working on involves the Village of Canton, SLU administration, and a private developer on the restoration of the Rushton Place (See cover story on Nov. 20, 2009).
Van De Water could not comment on the specifics of future plans for the GRHC, however it is in their bylaws that they can work anywhere along the Grasse River within the town of Canton. This could lead to great conservation efforts of the river as it flows through the town of Canton.
“We are always looking for volunteers to assist with clean-up and preservation projects,” said Van De Water, this would be a great opportunity for SLU students to get involved and have an impact on the Canton community.