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WNY Land Conservancy receives Greenway funds for Stella Niagara nature preserve

WHEATFIELD – The Western New York Land Conservancy’s plan to buy and preserve a quarter-mile of riverfront property in Lewiston is about to come to fruition, a conservancy official said Tuesday.

Jajean Rose told the committee that controls Niagara River Greenway funding in Niagara County that fundraising for the $3.27 million project at Stella Niagara is within $200,000 of completion, after the committee approved $150,000 in Greenway funds.

By June 1, the conservancy plans to complete its purchase of 29 acres of land on Lower River Road from the Sisters of St. Francis that has operated a school at Stella Niagara for more than a century. Rose said the nature preserve should be open by late summer or early fall.

Because of financial challenges, the nuns decided to sell the land they own between the road and the river, opposite the school and the mother house.

“This is the largest privately owned undeveloped parcel on the whole Niagara River,” Rose told the Host Communities Standing Committee.

He said the property is home to an assortment of endangered or threatened species, and also contains a chapel and shrines put up by the Sisters of St. Francis. Those will be preserved, along with the habitat.

The conservancy’s plan is to protect the land in perpetuity and make it available to the public without development of any kind. Rose said there will be no paved trails and no parking lot. The trails will be mowed grass or the sole existing gravel driveway. Parking will be sought at nearby town facilities.

The $150,000, in three annual $50,000 installments, will be deposited in the stewardship fund with which the conservancy plans to maintain the property. That fund is budgeted at $592,000 and is part of the cost estimate.

The purchase price for the land is to be $2.32 million, enabling the nuns to keep their school open and continue their other programs, including educational help for children in Niagara Falls at the Francis Center, and a respite program at the Stella Niagara Center of Renewal for grandmothers raising their grandchildren, low-income single mothers and women with cancer.

Questioned by Niagara Falls school attorney Angelo Massaro, Rose said a major donor to the Stella Niagara project demanded a deed restriction barring development of the riverfront land, and if the conservancy ever folds, its bylaws require its properties to be given to another land trust.

Rose said a major step toward completion of the fundraising came last month, when Joseph and Pamela Priest of Lewiston pledged a $200,000 challenge gift.

On another project, the committee granted $169,512 of Greenway money to the Town of Newfane for reconstruction of “Ye Olde Log Cabin” in Krull Park in Olcott.

Newfane Supervisor Timothy R. Horanburg said the town is contributing $40,000 of its own money toward the project, which will recreate a cabin overlooking Lake Ontario erected in 1888 by the Niagara County Pioneers Association.

That group put up a 24-by-30-foot cabin to mark the struggles of the founders of the county. But as time went on, interest in maintaining the cabin waned. Frederick Krull bought the site in 1937 and donated it to the county for park use, but in October 1957 the county Parks Department demolished the rickety cabin..