The Western New York Land Conservancy has just secured almost $1 million for the new "Restore the Gorge" project. Funding comes from the Niagara River Greenway Ecological Standing Committee, and will be used to begin ecological restoration work in one of the most important natural places in the world: the Niagara Gorge.
The Niagara Gorge is comprised of unique ecological communities and is one of the most biologically diverse places in the Great Lakes. Nancy Smith, executive director of the Western New York Land Conservancy said, "The Niagara Gorge is home to the majority of the plant species found in the Niagara Frontier, many of them very rare. It is also part of a globally significant important bird area, and the lower Niagara River rapids are important spawning ground for freshwater fish, including the threatened lake sturgeon."
The health of this sensitive environment can easily be harmed by many factors, especially the threat of exotic invasive plant species. To fortify the gorge and restore its health, over the next three years the Land Conservancy plans to remove invasive plant species and improve wildlife habitat on 43 acres of land in the gorge and rim between the Railroad Bridge and the Discovery Center.
In partnership with Applied Ecological Services, the Land Conservancy will begin by removing harmful invasive plants such as ailanthus and oriental bittersweet and replacing them with beneficial natives like oaks and ninebark shrubs. The Land Conservancy will also bring in botanical experts and famed landscape designers Darrel Morrison and Nancy Aten to create a small native grassland along the rim of the gorge. Seeds of local grasses and wildflowers will be collected for planting at the grassland site.
"The native grassland will showcase for visitors ways that they can improve the health of our region right in their own yards and communities," Smith SAID.
This project takes place on land owned by the New York Power Authority.
"The Power Authority is looking forward to working with the Land Conservancy to enhance this incredible natural place for our residents and visitors," said Steven Gossett, NYPA media relations manager.
New York States Parks manages this land and is also supportive of the planned improvements.
"This project will take place between Niagara Falls and Whirlpool State Park. This portion of the gorge is incredibly scenic. The project complements nearby state parks and New York state's investments to improve them," said Mark Thomas, State Parks western district director. "We are excited that this project will restore the ecology of the site and enhance the visitor experience."
The Niagara Gorge is an international tourist destination, so the Land Conservancy is also planning to add interpretive signage and provide educational programming at the site to enhance visitors' understanding of and appreciation for this unique place and the plants and animals that call it home.
The project will not be affected by planned changes to the Robert Moses Parkway.
"Niagara Falls and the Great Lakes are some of Western New York's greatest assets. Clean fresh water, outdoor recreation, and tourism will help drive our economy for decades to come. This project will be beneficial for the environment and enhance our visitors' enjoyment of the Niagara Gorge," Congressman Brian Higgins said.
Paul Dyster, mayor of the City of Niagara Falls, said he also excited to hear about this project.
"The Niagara Gorge is a cherished local treasure, and a unique natural wonder in the backyard of our city," he said. "The Land Conservancy's project in the gorge will help revitalize this area, and is even more important with the opening of the new Niagara Falls train station."
The Land Conservancy is also looking forward to working with the community to help guide the restoration and enhancement work. The public will have numerous opportunities to provide input on the project in the year ahead.
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. The Land Conservancy is accredited by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission and is one of 1,700 land trusts nationwide, including 90 in New York.
Land trusts have protected 40 million acres over the past 20 years. For more information on upcoming events, volunteer opportunities, or the mission of the Western New York Land Conservancy, call 716-687-1225 or visit www.wnylc.org.