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Commentary: A Tonawanda Creek Spring

Bruce Fisher
Bruce Fisher

By Bruce Fisher


Buffalo, NY – The furnace was struggling the other morning. The lawn had a thin white icy crust. We were supposed to go to Tonawanda Creek that day. We were planning to take our rowing shells for a slow steady 10,000 meter training run.

This is how spring rolls in Buffalo. It'd been beautiful rowing weather for weeks, up there on Tonawanda Creek. And then it snowed.

Tonawanda Creek is where the crew teams of UB row. It's UB's water. But every spring, up until Boom Days when the Power Authority pulls the ice boom off Lake Erie and lets the winter ice into the Niagara, the Creek is where everybody goes to row. Until the ice leaves Buffalo Harbor, until warm April days flush the floes and bergs out of the Black Rock Canal, the UB rowers and the kingfishers have to share the Tonawanda with the formidable boys from Canisius, St Joe's and City Honors, and the formidable girls, too, from Honors, Nardin and Buffalo Seminary.

Spring starts when the kingfishers return and swoop from bank to bank. Spring is underway for good when Buffalo's Richard Kendall puts his Hudson Boat Company single scull into that water. Kendall has been winning rowing races since the early 1950s. On spring mornings on Tonawanda Creek, he shows off the style that once again last year, and for the past 9 years in a row, has won him top honors in the biggest rowing race of them all, the Head of the Charles.

Soon enough, the boom will get hauled back to shore, and the beer and the music and the fireworks of Boom Days will be done, and the action will shift from the quiet creek to the windy waters of the West Side. The Barge Canal will open for the season, and the UB rowers will have to share the Tonawanda with powerboats and their wakes. Richard Kendall will head back over to the calm waters of the old Welland Canal and spend the summer practicing for another championship season.

So right now, this is our special seasonal spectacle, and the only audience is those sharp-voiced fishing birds who look for minnows in the oar-wash of a passing shell. You could take a ride to Tonawanda Creek. Go and see it. You shouldn't miss it. It's like spring flowers that not even spring snow can stop.

Listener Commentator Bruce Fisher is a columnist for Artvoice and a visiting professor of Economics and Finance at Buffalo State College, where he directs the Center for Economic and Policy Studies.

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