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The Western New York Land Conservancy and the Friends of the Stella Niagara Preserve announced Thursday the Land Conservancy is now the proud owner of the 29-acre Stella Niagara Preserve on the Niagara River in the Town of Lewiston. This news comes after an effort to raise more than $3.27 million to create the preserve and after matching a $200,000 challenge gift from a Lewiston family.
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, they asked the Land Conservancy to purchase this property and protect it for future generations to enjoy.
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.
"Our hearts are filled with gratitude for the community's support for the protection of this ecologically, culturally and spiritually uplifting place," Sister Edith Wyss said. "The creation of the Stella Niagara Preserve aligns with our beliefs in respecting and appreciating the beauty of this land as a reflection of the Creator. We are elated that it will now endure forever."
The Stella Niagara Preserve is the largest privately owned, undeveloped property along the Niagara River. It has a quarter mile of shoreline and direct access to the river. The preserve supports threatened species of plants and animals such as the bald eagle and lake sturgeon. Its shallow offshore 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 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 statues as well as a chapel and a peace shrine adorned with sgraffito murals crafted by well-known Polish artist Józef Sławiński.
Upon hearing the news, Town of Lewiston Supervisor Dennis Brochey said, "The Town of Lewiston is very excited about the creation of the Stella Niagara Preserve and we are grateful to the Land Conservancy, the Sisters of St. Francis and every supporter of this project. The Stella Niagara Preserve provides an exceptional place for our residents and visitors alike to connect with our region's history and experience our unique natural environment."
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.
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. In February, Town of Lewiston residents Pamela and Joe Priest contributed a $200,000 challenge gift. It came at a time when the fundraising goal seemed daunting.
"The Stella Niagara Preserve is especially meaningful to us, because our children both graduated from the adjacent Stella Niagara Education Park," the Priests said. "The Stella Niagara Preserve project continues the tradition of stewardship and protection of the environment that the Sisters of St. Francis have shepherded for over 100 years, and we are honored to have been a part of it."
The project also received support from foundations, 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, "We are so grateful to the many supporters in our community for helping us to make the Stella Niagara Preserve a reality. Preserving open spaces like this one contributes to our community's high quality of life, environmental health and 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, call 716-687-1225, email [email protected] or visit www.wnylc.org.