A ladder is used to get to a place otherwise beyond reach. That kind of help is the idea behind the State Parks’ Ladders to the Outdoors program, which provides free recreational programs for youth in underserved communities in Niagara and Erie counties.
The goal of State Parks’ Ladders to the Outdoors program is to remove financial barriers to getting children to play outdoors, try new sports, take a hike or camp in State Parks that they might not have a chance to visit. Since this program started in the summer of 2021, more than 2,000 kids from a variety of school districts, community, church, and youth groups have attended more than 50 different sporting and recreational events, completely free of charge.
Examples of programs that have been provided include guided hikes in the Niagara Gorge, sledding at Buffalo Harbor State Park, snowshoeing at Knox Farm State Park and a hike at Niagara Falls State Park. The offerings are endless and be tailored to any group or season.
When a group attends a Ladders program, activities will be tailored to the park they wish to go to and they will have access to a complete inventory of gear, from soccer balls, baseballs, bats and gloves, and footballs, to snowshoes and sleds. Want to learn disc golf? To bike? Fish? Swim? Kayak? Hike? We have all that equipment and people to help show the way, and it is always free!
It doesn’t stop at providing just the gear. To date, $300,000 has been invested to improve playgrounds and sporting fields, such as the baseball diamond and playground accessibility at DeVeaux Woods State Park in Niagara Falls, and Beaver Island State Park in Grand Island.
A safe and sturdy ladder costs money and Parks is making this program work with the support of a $860,000 grant made to the Natural Heritage Trust by the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Foundation. Wilson was the former owner of the Buffalo Bills football team and a founding owner of the American Football League, who prior to his death in 2014, created one of the nation’s largest charitable foundations to benefit the people of the Western New York, Buffalo and Detroit areas.
Ladders to the Outdoors is looking to grow this summer, with programs available at the following State Parks: Buffalo Harbor, Beaver Island, DeVeaux Woods, Reservoir, Whirlpool, Fort Niagara, and Wilson-Tuscarora.
If your youth group would like to join in or has an idea for a program, please apply or contact us. An online form can be found here. More information is available through KeJuan.Harmon@parks.ny.gov
Start climbing your ladder and see what’s happening at State Parks in western New York!
Post by KeJuan Harmon, Coordinator, Ladders to the Outdoors Program
More About the WNY State Parks in Ladders to the Outdoors
- Buffalo Harbor State Park is the first state park in the city of Buffalo. Boasting beautiful views of Lake Erie, the park is home to a 1,100-slip marina, a restaurant, boat launches, personal watercraft launches, fish cleaning station, restrooms, and a beach for strolling and sunbathing, and a nautical themed playground great for kids of all ages.
- Beaver Island State Park is located at the south end of Grand Island in the upper Niagara River. The 950-acre park has a half-mile sandy beach for swimming, adjacent 80 slip marina with both seasonal and transient boat slips, fishing access, car-top boat launch, multiple canoe/kayak launches, bike and nature trails, nature center, playgrounds, picnic areas, athletic fields, horseshoe pits, an 18-hole championship disc golf course, an 18-hole championship golf course.
- DeVeaux Woods State Park has a baseball diamond, a signature playground, picnic facilities, nature trails through a meadow and Old Growth Woods, and a path that leads across the Niagara Scenic Parkway to Whirlpool State Park with access to the Niagara Gorge trail system.
- Whirlpool State Park has many scenic overlooks with spectacular views of the Whirlpool and rapids. Trailheads lead into the Gorge where challenging trails lead to one of the most spectacular landscapes in the country. There are also picnic facilities and a playground in this park.
- Reservoir State Park has two tennis courts, seven softball diamonds, four basketball courts, a roller hockey court, and picnic facilities.
- Fort Niagara State Park has two boat launches providing access to the Lower Niagara River and Lake Ontario, woodland hiking trails, a swimming pool, a view of Lake Ontario, picnic grounds, playgrounds and 18 soccer fields.
- Wilson-Tuscarora State Park is a well-preserved natural area for many varieties of plants and wildlife, encompassing 476.5 acres of mature woods, open meadows, and marshland. Tuscarora Bay, divided from Lake Ontario by a strip of land called “The Island,” has a boat launch and emergency storm shelter docks. The park’s four-mile nature trail is also used for hiking, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. Fishing for many varieties of pan fish and game fish, from boats or from shore, is extremely popular.
More About the Natural Heritage Trust
Getting to Know the Natural Heritage Trust
Did you know that New York State’s public lands and waters have had a charitable partner for more than 50 years? The Natural Heritage Trust (NHT) was established in 1968 as a non-profit, public benefit corporation with the mission to support parks, outdoor recreation, historic preservation and land and water conservation throughout state lands. During…