Funded by oath community benefit fund for Niagara County, Empire State Development
In partnership with the Western New York Land Conservancy, and with funding provided by Oath Community Benefit Fund for Niagara County, under the direction of Empire State Development, Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper has completed the final phase of the restoration project along the shoreline at the Stella Niagara Preserve's landing in Lewiston.
Through two phases, this restoration project has yielded an improved paddlecraft launch site, educational signage and overall improved waterfront access for the public. Habitat enhancements have also been incorporated along the shoreline, improving water quality and shoreline stability, while providing important fish and wildlife habitat.
This final phase of the project added more than 200 native shrubs, grasses and wetland plants, creating over 80 square feet of improved in-water habitat. Species including pickerelweed, arrow arum, cardinal flower, and ninebark were planted in-water, along the shoreline, and in upland areas. Protective fencing was placed around these newly added plants to help them establish for the first few seasons.
Collectively, these enhancements provide important habitat in the Lower Niagara River, which is a globally significant Important bird area and supports a fishery that attracts sportsmen from around the country. The lower river also contains one of the few remnant lake sturgeon populations in New York, a species that has experienced a decline in population over the past century due to overharvesting, habitat loss and degradation. A recent study found lake sturgeon populations in the lower river are recovering. The Niagara Bar, a shallow and sandy area in Lake Ontario, and several eddies along the river edge are thought to be important feeding areas for sturgeon. The study provides important information related to habitat suitability that can be applied to the conservation of this important species and other fisheries and aquatic management actions in the region. Additionally, the information will help to prioritize future restoration efforts in the lower Niagara, and also minimize disruption to sensitive species, like sturgeon, now that more is known about their feeding and spawning behaviors. The study was completed by researchers from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Lower Great Lakes Fish and Wildlife Conservation Office, as well as the Buffalo State College Great Lakes Center through funding provided by the Niagara River Greenway Ecological Fund, Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, and Research Foundation for the State University of New York.
These improvements at Stella Niagara build off the phase one work of removing concrete rubble along the shoreline; constructing the informal paddlecraft launch; establishing protected shallow-water areas to provide resting, spawning and nursery habitats for fish while also attracting migratory songbirds; improving a seep-fed stream that flows into the Niagara River at the landing that was previously culverted underground; and improving the walking trail.
With the newly restored habitat and improved access to the water, the Stella Niagara Preserve has been added as a stop on the Discovery Niagara Shuttle, further improving access for the public.
"Shallow water and coastal wetland areas have been highly degraded within the Niagara River corridor," said Emily Sadowski, senior program manager at Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper, citing an 80-percent-plus loss of this habitat. "In addition, combining public access with the restoration of this habitat is a win for the community and helps advance the goals of the Town of Lewiston's comprehensive plan, and the regional objectives of the Niagara River Greenway Habitat Conservation Strategy."
Empire State Development President, CEO and Commissioner Howard Zemsky said, "Stella Niagara is a one-of-a-kind property along the Niagara River that's critical to the regional ecosystem and, now, thanks to Oath funds, will be a waterfront more accessible for the public to enjoy."
One of the few natural landing sites between Niagara Falls and Lake Ontario, the Stella Niagara Preserve is a 29-acre property in the Town of Lewiston. The preserve, which is owned by the Western New York Land Conservancy, is a critical link in the Niagara River Greenway and Olmsted's proposed necklace of open spaces along the Niagara River. The shoreline restoration is part of a larger effort led by the Western New York Land Conservancy to restore and enhance rare and declining ecosystems within the preserve. Other restoration efforts in the preserve include invasive species removal, the creation of a native-plant grassland, an oak savanna, a sedge meadow wetland, and restoration of a degraded natural spring and creek. The Land Conservancy also built a new walking trail system at the preserve.
"The Land Conservancy is grateful for our partnership with Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper," said Nancy Smith, executive director of the Western New York Land Conservancy. "This restoration will make the Stella landing an even more inspiring place for people to reconnect with nature."
Stella Niagara is the first nature preserve on the Niagara River to be owned and operated by a not-for-profit organization. Historically, Stella Niagara was a landing site for the British during their invasion of the U.S. in the War of 1812. Archeological evidence also points to Stella Niagara as an important canoe landing site for the Haudenosaunee and other Native American people. In 2015, the Land Conservancy purchased the property from the Sisters of St. Francis, who stewarded the land for more than a century.
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 1,000-plus land trusts nationwide, including 90 in New York. Land trusts have protected 56 million acres of land. 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
Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper is a community-based nonprofit organization that protects and restores waters and surrounding ecosystems for the benefit of current and future generations. For nearly 30 years, Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper has been a guardian of Western New York's fresh water, protecting clean water, restoring the health of ecosystems, connecting people to the water and inspiring economic growth and community engagement.