PLATTSBURGH — Battlefield Memorial Gateway will be a gateway to the past.
"It brings the American story to life for further exploration in the region," Plattsburgh Town Supervisor Michael Cashman said. "We, as a region, we're here in the very first paragraph of the American story. We want it to be something that connects our region with the American story as it unfolded.
"That is what this does."
'TRIANGLE OF HISTORY'
The town and the American Legion, most notably Post 1619, along with Clinton County Historical Association guidance, are directing a near $6 million project to develop now underutilized land into a historical hub, featuring an amphitheater, plaza area, boat launch, children's play area, walking path and access to the former Plattsburgh Air Force Base jetties.
The 7.5 acres in question sit on the shores of Lake Champlain off Route 9 in the town near WIRY radio station and across the road from Clare and Carl’s.
Supervisor Cashman called it one point of the "Triangle of History," a metaphoric shape connecting the dots between the region's expansive military heritage.
"(It) stretches from Valcour Island over to Crab Island and back to this property, which is directly connected to the old (Plattsburgh) Air Force Base."
So where Valcour Island has its roots in the American Revolution, Crab Island houses 150 unmarked soldier graves from a pivotal War of 1812 battle, and the onsite jetties were designed for Cold War fueling.
To date, the project has received several donations, including a $250,000 Dormitory Authority of the State of New York (DASNY) grant, secured by Assemblyman D. Billy Jones (D-Chateaugay Lake), as well as $10,000 from TD Bank, $25,000 from the American Battlefield Protection Program and $5,000 raised on opening day of the new lakeside McDonald's last summer.
The town has also applied for $1.2 million via a New York State Consolidated Funding Application.
When applying for funding opportunities, like that offered through the Battlefield Protection Program, Plattsburgh Town Planner Trevor Cole said the town highlighted the "Triangle of History" and the area's submerged battlefield.
"Our battlefield is unique in that it's underwater; it's on the water; it was out there," he said. "This project gives a unique vantage point to look at it. . . there needs to be an anchor point on the shore for the average person to interpret history out on the lake.
"Unless you're a diver, you don't get to experience much of it anymore."
COVID-19 somewhat stalled physical site improvements last year, but Supervisor Cashman said it offered time to recalibrate.
Its schematic design, supported by a $50,000 grant, was completed in that time and the town also engaged public interest and formed a smaller working group.
That group walked the site, looking specifically at its topography, and decided to relocate the planned "Remembrance Plaza."
Shaped like the bow of a ship, the plaza is anticipated to host historical story times and is now planned to sit on the property's highest point.
"So you get better views of Lake Champlain," Cashman said.
The children's play area was more thoroughly thought out and is expected to feature overexaggerated pieces of play equipment that nod to the site's history, like an island in the shape of Crab Island and an oversized canon ball.
Town officials expect the Battlefield Memorial Gateway space to be multi-generational, with room for the occasional boat launch to Crab Island, an area for fishing or dropping a kayak into the water and a venue for historical events.
"We want grandparents to bring their grandkids; we want school kids to come here for maybe a day trip to hear from a speaker or to use this as a departure point where they maybe go over to the Clinton County Historical Museum," the supervisor said.
"We all have lots of dreams for this property. What I think has really been the strength. . . is that we're not trying to dream really big right now. We're trying to bring those dreams down so we can make this space a premier space with the realities that we have," he continued.
"If we achieve everything, and I'm confident that will, people's minds will be blown away."
Though estimated at about $6 million, the supervisor expected the build out to come in below budget due to volunteers, local business gifts and sponsorships.
Information on those opportunities is available online: battlefieldmemorialgateway.org
Depending on outstanding grant applications, town officials said the project could go out to bid as early as spring 2022.
Asked what part of the project will pave the way, Supervisor Cashman said that was funding dependent. He also noted a petition for CP Rail to relocate and improve the nearby railroad crossing to allow for easier site access.
"Our objective is to have this space activated by the 250th anniversary of our nation in 2026."
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