The East Hill Foundation, located in North Tonawanda and focused on enhancing the quality of life of the residents of Western New York, has generously contributed $65,000 to the Western New York Land Conservancy for the creation of the Stella Niagara Preserve. This donation helped the Land Conservancy reach its $3.27 million fundraising goal, which enabled the Land Conservancy to purchase the 29-acre preserve property on the Niagara River in the Town of Lewiston.
The Sisters of St. Francis, the preserve’s former owners, were instrumental in the creation of the Stella Niagara Preserve. In 2013, in keeping with the tradition of St. Francis of Assisi and the Sisters’ deeply held concern for the natural environment, the Sisters asked the Land Conservancy to purchase this spectacular property and protect it for future generations to enjoy.
The Stella Niagara Preserve is the largest privately-owned, undeveloped property along the entire Niagara River. It has a quarter-mile of shoreline and direct access to the river. The preserve supports threatened species of plants and animals like the Bald Eagle and Lake Sturgeon, and its shallow off-shore area supports critical spawning habitat for freshwater fish. The entire Niagara River is an internationally designated, globally significant Important Bird Area on par with the Everglades and Yellowstone, and is home to thousands of waterfowl and gulls during the winter. The Stella Niagara Preserve contributes to this spectacular annual bird migration.
The Stella Niagara Preserve is also historically significant. For centuries, Native Americans launched canoes from its shores as they hunted, fished and traded along the river. The preserve is the precise place where the British landed to capture Fort Niagara in the War of 1812, and has trees old enough to have witnessed these battles. Home to the Sisters of St. Francis since 1907, the property features several enchanting statues, as well as a chapel and a peace shrine adorned with sgraffito murals crafted by well-known Polish artist Józef Sławiński.
Ken Dulian of the East Hill Foundation said, “We are very pleased to support this project. The Stella Niagara Preserve is stunningly beautiful and ecologically important and it is one of the few remaining access points to the Niagara River. By permanently protecting the Stella property, we ensure that generations of Western New Yorkers will be able to experience the magic of this special place.”
The Stella Niagara Preserve is not yet open to the public but will be later this summer. The preserve will have walking trails, fishing access and a kayak launch. The Land Conservancy will also enhance the property’s critical wildlife habitat, protect its historic structures and art, and carefully steward the property for future generations.
The Land Conservancy hoped to raise $3.8 million to create the preserve, with at least $3.27 million needed in order to purchase the property and open it to the public. The Land Conservancy surpassed the $3.27 million goal in late May, and is still fundraising for additional work at the preserve.
Nancy Smith, executive director of the Western New York Land Conservancy said, “We are so grateful to the East Hill Foundation for supporting this important project and making it possible for us to make the Stella Niagara Preserve a reality. Preserving open spaces like Stella contributes to our community’s high quality of life, environmental health and the local economy. This is the first of many projects we hope to complete along the unfolding Niagara River Greenway.”
The Western New York Land Conservancy is a regional, not-for-profit land trust that permanently protects land with significant conservation value in Western New York for future generations. The Land Conservancy envisions a future in which open spaces, working lands, wildlife habitat and scenic beauty are cherished and protected as part of the landscape and character of Western New York. For more information on upcoming events, volunteer opportunities or the mission of the Western New York Land Conservancy, please call (716) 687-1225, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.wnylc.org.