On Tuesday morning, July 7, the Western New York Land Conservancy and the Friends of the Stella Niagara Preserve cut a ribbon to open the Stella Niagara Preserve to the public and to celebrate the hundreds of supporters who made the creation of the preserve a reality. The Land Conservancy purchased the 29-acre Stella Niagara Preserve property from the Sisters of St. Francis at the end of May after a successful multi-year campaign that raised more than $3 million for the project.
Speakers at the event included Niagara Falls Mayor Paul Dyster; Michael Kracker from Congressman Chris Collins’ office; Mary Machelor on behalf of Assemblyman John Ceretto; Vice Chairman of the Niagara County Legislator Clyde Burmaster; Dr. Thomas Chambers, President of the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area; Tim DePriest from NYS Department of Environmental Conservation and Chair of the Niagara River Greenway Ecological Standing Committee; Supervisor Dennis Brochey from the Town of Lewiston; Sister Edith Wyss from the Sisters of St. Francis; and Nancy Smith, Executive Director of the Western New York Land Conservancy.
Following the presentations, project supporters released several monarch butterflies onto the preserve. The monarchs were donated by the Eastern Monarch Butterfly Farm in Clarence and are part of an effort to restore populations of this rapidly declining butterfly, now being considered for endangered species protection. The wildflowers on the preserve, in particular its milkweed plants, provide important habitat for this butterfly. After the release, Land Conservancy staff led attendees on a hike of the property.
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. Its shallow off-shore area supports critical spawning habitat for freshwater fish.
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.
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. Sister Edith Wyss stated, “For 108 years, we have treasured and cared for this land and now the time has come for us to pass on to others the gift that came to us. We are filled with joy as we hand over this meadow to those who will tend it, share, and love it as we have.”
The Land Conservancy surpassed its $3.27 million fundraising goal in late May, enabling the organization to purchase the land. Funding received and committed includes $1,853,487 from the Niagara Relicensing Habitat Enhancement and Restoration Fund, $500,000 from the Greenway Ecological Standing Committee, $300,000 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Great Lakes Restoration Initiative through the Joint Venture Habitat Protection and Restoration Program, and $150,000 from the Greenway’s Town of Lewiston/Host Communities Standing Committee.
The project received hundreds of individual donations from throughout the community, including a $200,000 challenge gift from Pamela and Joe Priest, residents of the Town of Lewiston. This generous gift inspired numerous others to contribute toward this project. Foundations also provided incredible support for this project, including $200,000 from the Tower Family Fund, Inc., $65,000 from the East Hill Foundation, $50,000 from the John R. Oishei Foundation, $50,000 from the Gallogly Family Foundation, $25,000 from The Margaret L. Wendt Foundation, $25,000 from the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, $15,000 from the Hahn Family Foundation, $10,000 from the M&T Charitable Foundation, $10,000 from the Joanne & Frank Collins Foundation, and $2,000 from the Western New York Foundation.
Nancy Smith, Executive Director of the Western New York Land Conservancy said, “The Niagara River Greenway has so much to offer our community as it creates a ribbon of parks, preserves and scenic landscapes that connect people to the Niagara River. The importance and urgency of this opportunity calls us to work together and forge new partnerships that include our religious communities, our developers, our farmers and our businessman, our environmentalists and our sportsman, residents from our cities, our suburbs and our countryside. The Niagara River Greenway promises to connect all of us in ways that can transform our region and we hope that the Stella Niagara Preserve will play an important role in this quest.”
The Stella Niagara Preserve, located across from the Stella Niagara Education Park on Lower River Road in Lewiston, is now open to the public. Visitors can walk along its trails and fish or launch a kayak at the landing. Visitors should park at the Lewiston Senior Center at 4361 Lower River Road, using the lot closest to Pletcher Road. The Land Conservancy has hired renowned landscape architect Darrel Morrison to lead the effort to improve access at the preserve and restore wildlife habitat. Benches, signage and other visitor amenities will be installed next year.
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.
The John R. Oishei Foundation strives to be a catalyst for change to enhance economic vitality and quality of life for the Buffalo Niagara region through grantmaking, leadership and network building. The Foundation was established in 1940 by John R. Oishei, founder of Trico Products Corporation.