Don and Barbara Owens could not bear the thought that the pristine Jackson Falls Preserve near their home in Aurora, with its ties to Roycroft history, could be lost to development if money could not be raised to preserve it.
And, because of their generosity, it will be saved – and re-named after them.
The Western New York Land Conservancy announced Wednesday night at its 25th anniversary gala that it had raised the $600,000 necessary to buy and preserve the 57-acre property with two waterfalls.
The property will be named the Owens Falls Sanctuary in honor of the Owens, who contributed $200,000.
“As neighbors, we couldn’t stand the thought of this hidden gem being lost,” Don Owens said. “It’s kind of an out of the way place. It has not been terribly impacted by human beings.”
The land conservancy and the Friends of Jackson Falls, a 30-person group of community members committed to protecting the property, met a Oct. 31 deadline to raise the $600,000.
The waterfalls and woods, with its mature hemlock and beech trees, home to migrating birds, breeding frogs and salamanders, had stayed in the family of Roycrofter Cecil Jackson since he bought it in the 1920s. Jackson, who took care of the Roycroft banking, lived across the street from Bert Hubbard, the son of Elbert Hubbard, the founder of the artisan community in East Aurora.
Jackson’s three grandsons wanted to preserve the land, but they were not in a position to donate it.
The $600,000 covers the $400,000 price, closing costs and seed money to start a stewardship fund for maintenance. The property, which lies on the southeast of Center Street and Hubbard Road, includes mature headwater forests on Mann’s Creek, which flows through a 100-foot deep ravine.
Don Owens, a certified professional soil scientist and founder of Earth Dimensions in Elma, said the area’s geologic history is written on the walls of the gorge. He said he has been familiar with the falls since he moved to Western New York in 1966, and his family often walks through the preserve.
“It’s a neat place to appreciate nature,” he said.
Donations reached the halfway point in May, when the land conservancy received a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The Gallogly Family Foundation gave a challenge donation of $20,000 in July. Gifts of $20,000 also were made by Kathy Lasher and Scott Bieler, the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, Sue Sunderlin and John Quill Taylor.
“We know in our hearts that making this donation was the right decision,” Barbara Owens said. “I’m just really pleased that it’s going to be there forever.”
“It’s a place to cherish,” Don Owens said.