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Briefs: Niagara Falls State Park getting upgrades

| Sunday, June 26, 2011

Niagara Falls State Park, the oldest state park in the nation, is getting special attention after its condition was criticized in a recent New York Times article.

State parks officials say they're launching a three-part plan to improve the 126-year-old park along the brink of Niagara Falls.

Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey said extra crews are being dispatched to complete spring cleaning that was delayed by the rainy spring.

She says the agency also will expedite $3 million in upgrades to the park's aging facilities and identify other priorities.

The park, opened in 1885, is the most-visited in New York's state parks system, attracting 8 million people per year.

'Welcome America' Philly fest rings in July 4th

The city's annual Independence Day celebration that got under way this weekend will include three fireworks shows, a parade, concert series, movies, music and a talent contest during the 11-day period that started Friday.

This weekend featured Taste of Philadelphia, a popular three-day smorgasbord of food from 25 restaurants and fireworks and music.

A 4 1/2-ton Wawa hoagie will be assembled and then, served June 29 at Independence National Historical Park, with a screening of "Rocky" outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art that evening.

A Chinatown block party and open-air market of food and crafts -- followed by the second of the festival's fireworks shows on the Delaware River -- happens July 2, and Peter Nero and the Philly Pops perform a free concert on July 3 at Independence Hall.

Fourth of July events begin with a ceremony at Independence Hall featuring music and a reading of excerpts from the Declaration of Independence, followed by a parade with more than 4,000 participants from 12 states -- including nine floats, 16 marching bands, representatives from all five military branches and others marching past Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.

A daylong party on Benjamin Franklin Parkway starts at noon and features three musical stages with offerings from pop vocalists to a steel drum band. Hometown favorites The Roots, four-time Grammy winners and the house band for "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon," will headline the July 4 concert on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway that culminates with a huge fireworks show over The Philadelphia Museum of Art.

The Roots' Questlove, the festival's musical director, also plans to perform sets with guests Earth Wind and Fire, Michael McDonald, Estelle, Sara Bareilles and DJ Jazzy Jeff.

"The Fourth of July on the Parkway should be (to Philadelphia) what New Year's Eve in Times Square is to New York," Questlove said in a statement.

ArkANSAS museum would welcome Trail of Tears monument

The board of the planned U.S. Marshals Museum in Fort Smith says it would welcome a monument to the Trail of Tears on the site.

The Southwest Times Record reports that Muscogee (Creek) Nation Chief of Staff Edwin Marshall spoke about the monument at a museum board meeting. Marshall says chiefs of the Five Civilized Tribes, who were forced to move west into what is now Oklahoma during the 19th century along what is known as the Trail of Tears, are interested in a monument.

The Five Civilized Tribes are the Creek, Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw and Seminole nations. Each tribe passed through the Fort Smith area at least once along the trail.

Marshals Museum Executive Director Jim Dunn says the Marshals Service and the tribes have worked closely together.

Road trip planner has interactive maps, other helpful tools

Unfasten your seat belt. A stop at this road trip-planning website will give you a trunk-load of reasons to return for another visit.

Name: Myscenicdrives.com

What it does: Arms day-trippers and road warriors with tips and tools they need to improve their next drive. Get enticing descriptions, worthy detours, park passes and a gas calculator in one place.

What's hot: Don't miss the interactive maps that can add features such as vista points, side-trips, hikes and museums. You can print and send directions to your phone or export it to GPS devices such as Garmin, Tom Tom and Co-Pilot Live. You can find a scenic drive nearby by punching in your location or ZIP Code (13 states so far). Don't miss the link to the Top 20 Scenic Drives found on the "About Us" page, where you'll find the Chinook Scenic Byway and Jacinto Reyes Scenic Byway at the top of the list.

What's not: More pictures, please. The descriptions of the scenic drives provide indications that you'll have a gorgeous itinerary, but big photos would be a nice addition (there are tools provided to share pictures).

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