Discovering a Natural Oasis: Grand Island’s State Parks
Both Beaver Island State Park and Buckhorn Island State Park are perfect destinations for a few hours or a full day of outdoorsy R&R. Both are wildlife refuges bounded by the beautiful Niagara River and teeming with flora, fauna, and fun. Here are some of the highlights from the only town in Erie County with two state parks:
Beaver Island State Park
Beaver Island State Park is just off of Exit 18B on the I-190; just follow the very visible signs leading to the park entrance ($7.00 entrance fee). Beaver Island is 950 acres encompassing just about every outdoor activity.
One of the park’s main attractions is its half-mile beach accessible from a traditional boardwalk. During the summer the beach is open 11a.m.-7 p.m. and is staffed by lifeguards. The nearby Boardwalk Bar and Grill serves finger foods (including flatbreads and grilled fare) and has a surprisingly large array of beers on tap. Seating is available at the bar or at one of several tables under a large tent with views of the beach below.
Of special note is River Lea at the southern end of Beaver Island: signs along roads in the park show the way to the historic building. River Lea is the former summer residence of family members of U.S. President Grover Cleveland and now it’s a history museum. The grounds are lovely and a hiking trail beyond the house (look for the cast iron gate) leads to a place where migratory birds, including snowy egrets, nest.
On the road leading to River Lea keep an eye out for several places to stop and observe nature along the lush shoreline of long grasses. There is one small wooden shack, replete with a bench inside, that is perfect for bird watching. Paddlers should also look for a sign marking a good place to put in to paddle out to Strawberry Island and Motor Island. Another less wild place to put in is at the park’s marina, to the right of the beach.
Buckhorn Island State Park
Buckhorn Island is the sister park of Beaver Island – on the opposite end of Grand Island and near the other set of double span bridges. Buckhorn is almost the same size as Beaver Island but is more rustic as it has no restrooms, concessions, sporting facilities, or picnicking/shelters.
While Beaver Island is easy to find, Buckhorn can be a little challenging for first-time visitors. When driving down East River Road, look for a sign for the park on the right side of the street if heading north. A small parking lot with a handful of spots is just off of a long driveway.
Like parts of Beaver Island, Buckhorn is a nature sanctuary attracting migratory birds and other species and features a meadow. One thing to note is that Grand Island has seen an uptick (bad pun intended) in ticks so do consider wearing bug repellent.
On either side of the trails and close to the marsh note several species of wildflowers: members of the orchid family, asters, and many more. It is possible to kayak or canoe within the park as well as bicycle. Most people are here to hike on the several trails.