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Saving Mossy Point: 'It’s awesome, it’s threatened,' it matters to Niagara River

Mossy Point’s 222-acre forest in Wales is more than 20 miles from the Niagara River.

Even so, this secluded land of hemlocks and oaks, rare ferns and milkweed, is as important to the river’s water quality as the shoreline at Broderick Park or Beaver Island.

The Western New York Land Conservancy seeks to add this parcel to the more than 6,500 acres across Western New York it has already protected.

“We intend to maintain this as a nature preserve forever,” said Jajean Rose-Burney, the land conservancy’s deputy executive director.

The conservancy, with financial help from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and private donors – has raised a little over half of the $1.6 million it needs by year’s end to buy the property.

“With over two miles of frontage along creeks, this will be one of the largest blocks of headwater forests ever protected in Erie County,” said Nancy Smith, the land conservancy’s executive director.

The property is also home to:

• Six of Western New York’s seven woodpecker species.
• South American migratory songbirds.
• A patch of old-growth forest.
• Nearly a dozen fern species, some of which are rare.

From overhead, the property's parcel is shaped like New Hampshire’s former iconic Old Man of the Mountain. It’s nestled just east of the land conservancy’s 131-acre Kenneglenn property, bordered by Hunters Creek, and north and west of Hunters Creek County Park. There is a small access point off of Strykersville Road about one-quarter mile from Route 20A.

“We don’t have to do a lot of restoration here because there’s already such a good diversity of native trees, which is one of the reasons this is such an important property,” said Jajean Rose-Burney, the land conservancy’s deputy executive director. “We’re now 100 years into the regeneration of a forest that fortunately had patches of forest that were kept.”

The forest

Old-growth patches include stands of hemlocks, white pine and hickory trees.

“That’s very rare. There’s not a lot of old growth, but there is some old growth here,” Rose-Burney said. “And, you just don’t get that.”

Red oaks, sugar maples, birch trees and cucumber magnolia trees also grow on the property.

Mossy Point includes a rocky, shale-bedded Hunters Creek, ecologically diverse upland woodland areas and even a few spots where the sun peeks through to create a lush carpet of ferns, including the somewhat rare Christmas fern, which stays green all year.

“Come here in the middle of winter, brush off the snow, it’ll be green,” Rose-Burney said. “It’s definitely not common.”

The uncommon Christmas fern at Mossy Point. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

A butterfly hangs around on a shasta daisy at Erie Basin Marina. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News file photo)

The fields of milkweed that grow at Mossy Point provide food for caterpillars that become monarch butterflies.

Migratory birds use Mossy Point’s deep woods to nest, including species like the Louisiana water thrush, great crested flycatcher, blackburnian warbler and others.

The water thrush nests in Hunters Creek during the summer months, then returns to its native South America.

“It’s a really cool story with this bird. They’re Venezuelan birds, and we think they’re ours. They’re here three months out of a year,” Rose-Burney said. “Everywhere it goes for the entire 12 months we need to protect, so it can survive. We need to protect this place, so that it can nest.”

Besides trees, plants and birds, the property is frequented by native wildlife like foxes and black bears. And, crayfish claw their way through Hunters Creek.

Headwaters protection

Hunters Creek flows into Buffalo Creek, which meanders through Wales, Marilla, Elma and West Seneca before joining Cayuga Creek to form the Buffalo River near Harlem Road and Clinton Street.

Headwater forests hold and naturally filter water, keeping it pristine. And, the purer the water is upstream, the better the water quality stays downstream.

Water flows along Hunters Creek. (Mark Mulville/Buffalo News)

The land conservancy’s mission has full support from Buffalo Niagara Waterkeeper, an organization devoted to water protection.

“Currently, 80 percent of the (Niagara River) watershed exists in undeveloped headwater forests and wetlands, yet only 13 percent of lands in the watershed are protected from future development,” said Kerrie Gallo, Waterkeeper’s deputy executive director. “It is imperative that we protect the best of what remains.”

Erie County's Department of Environment & Planning also supports the land conservancy's mission at Mossy Point.

"It's really important that we protect the lands up there," said Commissioner Thomas R. Hersey Jr. "We're excited about it and we're excited it is adjacent to Hunters Creek park. It's our objective to keep these areas as natural and as clean as possible."

Funding preservation

The land conservancy has a purchase agreement with the owner of the Mossy Point property, but it needs to raise $1.6 million by year’s end.

So far, it has secured a little more than half of that.

The largest portion, a $650,000 grant, came from the DEC’s Water Quality Improvement Project program. It is one of 26 projects statewide tapped for funding under the program and received the highest award in the Buffalo area, the DEC said.

The DEC said preventing water pollution by protecting source waters like Mossy Point is more cost-effective than removing pollutants from the water.

“The loss of natural landscapes like this one can lead to polluted runoff, sedimentation, higher stormwater surges and reduced stream baseflow and aquifer recharge,” the DEC said in a statement. “This natural forest buffer helps to protect Hunters Creek, and the tributary to Buffalo Creek and then the Buffalo River (and ultimately the Great Lakes and Niagara River).”

Those waters are where Western New York communities draw their drinking water.

A $100,000 challenge gift from the Gallogly Family Foundation was announced by the land conservancy Friday. Conservancy officials said it needs the community to match the challenge gift and donate enough to purchase and protect Mossy Point by Dec. 31. The conservancy is accepting donations to buy the land through its website.

What if the mission to buy Mossy Point fails?

“Subdivisions, logged, lost. You’ll never be able to come here," Rose-Burney said. "The forest will disappear. Water quality in the Niagara River will get hurt. Flooding in West Seneca will get worse. And, you’ll never be able to experience a beautiful place like this.”

“I try not to be negative, but that’s the reality," Rose-Burney said. "This is private property, you can’t come here right now. It will be logged. It will be developed. That’s just the future of places like this if it’s not protected."

If it is protected, it would benefit more than water quality, wildlife and native plants. Expect nature trails to be developed on the property that will be opened to the public.

Rose-Burney envisions a year-round trail system connecting Mossy Point with Kenneglenn and possibly Hunters Creek County Park.

“We want to create a pretty nice, extensive walking, snowshoeing and cross-country ski trail,” Rose-Burney said. “We haven’t planned it out yet.”

The land conservancy’s message in 10 words or less:

“It’s awesome, it’s threatened,” Rose-Burney said. “And, you can save it.”

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