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Clock is running out on campaign 
to keep Mill Road site undeveloped

Chuck Koller is worried for his grandchildren.

Worried because one of his favorite vistas is at risk of being lost to private developers.

And worried because time is running out on an effort to save it.

"I am afraid for my grandchildren," Koller said Sunday as he looked across the meadow on Mill Road in the Town of Aurora.

"Now, the places to see wildlife, to see vistas like this, are limited. Unfortunately, now nature is what you see on TV."

Koller is not part of the campaign to save the site – 60 acres of hilly fields and forests, all of it privately owned – but he is among those who have come to consider it one of the best natural views around.

Sunday, the West Seneca resident was just one of many who turned out to support the Friends of Mill Road, a group working to preserve what many in the Southtowns consider a beloved natural treasure.

The site, a former farm, is just a mile or two outside East Aurora, and because of its extensive frontage, it has become a popular scenic overlook.

More than anything else, the site is known for its 180-degree panoramic views of the valley and forest that lies to the west.

"What if this wasn't here? What if this was lost?" said Nancy Smith of the Western New York Land Conservancy. "This is personal for me."

Smith fell in love with the site more than 20 years ago and can tell story after story of people who share that love.

Like the newlyweds who landed their hot-air balloon in the nearby meadow so they could toast their commitment.

Or the families who return every year so they can take their family holiday photos with the meadow and woods as a backdrop.

"It's a view that's been enjoyed by so many people for so many decades," said Kathy Lasher of the Friends of Mill Road.

Lasher's group has spent 18 months raising money to buy the site; so far, it has collected upward of $230,000 of the $630,000 needed.

"We've had all types and sizes of gifts," Lasher said of fund-raisers like the one they had Sunday. "They've ranged from $25 to $25,000."

The problem is that their contract with the current owners – two local families that would love nothing more than to see it remain natural – runs out at the end of this year.

The group has applied to New York State Parks for a $279,000 grant to help with the purchase. The request is supported by a host of public officials here and across the state, and it has gained credibility because of the Town of Aurora's offer to own and maintain the land.

Smith and Lasher view the state funding as a matching grant of sorts, an acknowledgement that New York State is willing to do its part to save one of their community's most cherished assets.

"It's pivotal," Smith said of the state grant. "We've done our part, and we've told the state this is a project that won't take five years to develop. We're ready to go right now."

The only planned improvements are a scenic overlook and small parking lot along Mill Road.

"Mill Road is something people are emotionally connected to," said Lasher. "If we're going to save anything in Aurora, we all agree this is the top priority."