Share this article

print logo

Fundraising campaign to purchase Mill Road Overlook nears its goal

The sweeping view from Mill Road near East Aurora has inspired travelers over the years to pull over to take photos or enjoy a sunset.

Now, a three-year effort to raise $650,000 to buy the scenic vantage point is nearing completion. About 300 donors have contributed to the effort – including one anonymous out-of-towner who contributed $50,000.

“We’re really pretty sure of ourselves at this point,” said Kathy Lasher, co-chair of Friends of Mill Road.

The group of 32 volunteers, who organized after the 60 acres on Mill was selected as one of the town’s most scenic assets, has collected about $500,000 – from checks as modest as $25 to the $50,000 from an Ellicottville woman who heard about the effort through the Western New York Land Conservancy, then wrote the generous check after visiting the expanse of meadow that ends in a vista of treetops.

“She came here and saw it and agreed it was a project she wanted to be part of,” Lasher said. “She wasn’t anywhere on our donor prospect list.”

Currently, others are considering stepping up to the plate to donate the final $150,000.

“We’re very close,” Lasher added.

Raising this much money, however, has been slow going. After failing to raise the full amount by the initial two-year deadline set by the owners of the property, Friends of Mill Road negotiated an extra year, which lapses in December.

The organization worked with the conservancy to negotiate the price of $9,000 per acre with the two owners.

Clinton Closs, a retired farmer who owns much of the site and still mows the meadow, and his wife, Barbara, are selling 40 acres where potatoes have grown and dairy cows have grazed since 1820.

“Like many farmers, their wealth is tied up in the land,” Lasher said. “That’s their 401(k).”

Neighbors Tim and Karen Sievenpiper, who bought 20 adjacent acres from the Closses, are selling their parcel, also.

Money raised by Friends of Mill Road will cover the $540,000 land purchase. Another $50,000 will fund construction of a “scenic overlook” with small parking lot. It will eventually be owned and managed by the Town of Aurora.

The remaining $60,000 raised will pay to set up the conservation easement, grant writing, fundraising and event planning.

Plans also include bench tributes to those who donated $20,000 or more:

• Lasher, a retired finance and operations director at MassMutual Financial Group, and her domestic partner, Scott Bieler, president of West Herr Automotive Group, contributed $125,000.

• The Community Foundation and Garman and Bernhardi families each gave $20,000.

Lasher emphasized that donations of all sizes matter to her.

This was her first fundraising project and she was surprised by how gradual the process was. A check for $20 with a note of support, she said, was as meaningful as a big one.

“It keeps our spirits up so we can keep going,” Lasher added.

Lasher, who lives on a nearby rural road, also has been inspired by the stories people tell about the land.

She has learned from a wildlife biologist that a hemlock grove on the property is a haven for deer, hawks and owls.

And bicyclists say the prospect of gazing across the beauty of the meadow and forest motivates them to finish the hard pedal up the hill.

When Lasher’s son got married, he and his new wife couldn’t resist coming to the spot for a quick picture that now serves as screen saver on Lasher’s computer.

“It wasn’t just the beauty of the view,” she said. “It became so much more.”