The Stella Niagara Preserve along the Niagara River in Lewiston will remain forever a natural gem unblemished by development.
For that we have the Sisters of St. Francis to thank. The order owned the land for 108 years before selling it – and its vision – to the Western New York Land Conservancy.
The sisters could have sold this piece of nature on Lower River Road for much more money than the $2.25 million they accepted from the conservancy, but they had felt a deep commitment to maintaining the site for the public.
The conservancy has worked tirelessly on fundraising, so far bringing in about $3.6 million, to the benefit of the entire Buffalo Niagara region. The preserve, with its beautiful quarter-mile stretch of riverfront, officially opened Tuesday as part of the Niagara River Greenway.
Public access means visitors can bird-watch, launch kayaks and canoes and get a look at religious art in a peaceful, relaxing environment.
Besides being a nationally designated Peace Site and part of the Niagara County Historic Trail, the site has significant ecological importance. There are a variety of habitats, including a riparian zone, a large meadow, forest area and vernal pools. Rare plants and animals make their home on the property, which contains a globally significant bird designated area.
As News reporter Thomas J. Prohaska noted, walkers along the paths will find a peace memorial in honor of President John F. Kennedy and a small chapel, both of which feature the murals of Polish artist Jozef Slawinski. On the northern edge of the preserve is a stone grotto in honor of the Virgin Mary.
The chapel will not be open except for special events, but the murals are visible by looking through the windows.
The preserve is a place of peace and tranquility that many people worked for and donated to – more than $2.5 million in funding from various Greenway-related sources, all starting from the New York Power Authority. In addition to a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a $200,000 gift from Joseph and Pamela Priest of Lewiston, foundations contributing included $200,000 from the Tower Family Fund, named for a Porter family that once lived on Lower River Road.
Safeguarding the Stella Niagara property was profoundly important. The public preserve will enhance tourism and the economy in the area by giving people another destination along the Niagara River.
More important, it was the right thing to do.