In the final push of a two-year-long fundraising campaign, the Western New York Land Conservancy faces a Dec. 31 deadline to raise $138,000 in order to purchase and preserve a private tract of land near East Aurora called Mossy Point.
The conservancy has raised $1.46 million toward its goal of $1.6 million since October 2017, when it signed a contract with the current land owner. The agreement gave WNYLC two years to raise the funds it needs to buy the 222-acre plot of land in Wales and steward the property as a publicly-accessible nature preserve.
WBFO’s Kyle Mackie visited the neighboring Kenneglenn Scenic and Nature Preserve to hike and speak with WNYLC Deputy Executive Director Jajean Rose-Burney about what Mossy Point means to Western New York and the Great Lakes region. The following transcript of their conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.
MACKIE: So, we've left the [WNYLC] office and now we're heading out. Can you tell me a little bit more about what this land means to the greater area?
ROSE-BURNEY: Mossy Point is at the headwaters of the Niagara River, and what that means is that everything that happens here ends up in the Niagara River. So, as a protected forest, it prevents flooding in places like West Seneca and South Buffalo. This place absorbs a lot of those rainwaters, a lot of those meltwaters before it gets into the rivers, and, ultimately, into people’s basements. You cut down this forest, you develop this place, flooding gets worse.
Same thing with water quality. As a forest, this place absorbs [and] filters all the runoff. If this wasn’t a forest, the runoff would have more soil, more sediment, more contamination, which again would end up in the Niagara River, where we drink from, where we boat, where we swim. It’s also a really important wildlife habitat. We have things like fox and coyotes. Great horned owls nest here, and we have really cool birds that migrate from South America to North America and nest here.
MACKIE: Where exactly is Mossy Point located?
ROSE-BURNEY: Mossy Point is adjacent to our own Kenneglenn Nature Preserve. We already own 131 acres, that's Kenneglenn. On the other side of Hunters Creek is Mossy Point, 222 acres. Surrounding all of that is Hunters Creek County Park—it's more than 700 acres of basically forest, and so once we protect Mossy Point, which is sort of the missing piece, that donut hole in this larger protected area, it will be a combined 1,100-acre protected forest along both sides of more than two miles of Hunters Creek. It will be one of the largest protected areas in Erie County.
MACKIE: What’s happening with the land right now? It’s owned by a private land owner…
ROSE-BURNEY: Yeah, it’s been owned privately for hundreds of years. The current owner is interested in selling it to us so that we can protect it and open it to the public. You know, the real threat to the property, especially right now, is just logging. There’s an old-growth forest at Mossy Point. Most of the forest is 75+ years old. Some of it has never been cut. It has a lot of valuable timber and it has been getting logged selectively. The threat is that it loses all of those trees, the forest gets cuts down, which hurts wildlife habitat [and] will hurt water quality. That’s likely to continue to happen and be what happens at Mossy Point if we can’t protect it right now.
MACKIE: We've just gotten to a really beautiful lookout. Tell me what we're seeing.
ROSE-BURNEY: We're on the Kenneglenn side of Hunters Creek looking at Mossy Point, the forest on the other side of the creek that we're trying to protect. And below us, about 200 feet down, on the other side of a 200-foot shale gorge, is Mossy Point. The Hunters Creek is winding its way through this little river valley. There's this little tiny waterfall, which in the spring and summer and fall is a great place to take a hike and put your feet in the water. And what we're seeing is basically the old-growth forest at Mossy Point. There's a red-tailed hawk flying by us right now. Come here at dusk and you're going to see barred owls and great horned owls. Sometimes you get kingfishers in the creek below and even great blue herons.
You know, it's basically just a spectacular view. Hemlocks [and] white pines still have their needles. All of the red oaks have lost their leaves, but you see these massive trees, these beech, these black cherries. And all you can see is forest. And all you can hear, I guess, [is] the wind, the creek and the little waterfall.
MACKIE: Right, we've left the sounds of the city and the traffic behind us.
MACKIE: So, this is what we’re here to talk about: You’re trying to purchase Mossy Point. Tell me about the fundraising deadline. How much do you have left to go?
ROSE-BURNEY: We signed a contract that gave us two years to raise what we needed to buy the property, to pay for all the closing costs, to pay for new trails, to pay for some habitat restoration, to pay for long-term maintenance. And so we needed to raise $1.6 million, and we had a deadline of the end of this year, Dec. 31, 2019. We fortunately received a large grant from the state in 2018. We put together a friends group, a lot of people from the community coming together to raise the money. And it seemed very daunting.
Fortunately, with the community support, 300 individual donors—more than we’ve ever had for any other project, ever—we’ve now raised $1,450,000*, which is incredible, and so that means we’re $150,000* short of our goal. I’m optimistic that it’s going to work, but we certainly do have a short window to pull this off and make it so that we can actually buy the property, open it to the public and maintain it forever.
MACKIE: To be clear, that $1.6 million is not just the cost to purchase the land? It’s also the cost to actually build new trails and steward the land and make it ready to go so people can enjoy it.
ROSE-BURNEY: That’s right. You know, part of what we do, it's obviously protecting nature, protecting places that are really special. But it's also about making Western New York a better place to live. People want to go outside, they want to experience nature, they want to splash in a creek, they want to hike. In the winter, we need things to do. Buffalo gets a lot of snow but the winters are beautiful. You just have to be able to go outside to experience it. And we think that protecting a place like Mossy Point, it's not just about the wildlife, it's about the people. This is the type of place that makes Western New York a better place to live. It’ll attract people, and that's how we contribute to the revitalization of this region.
MACKIE: What you say to people who say, 'You know, it sounds like a great cause. But don't they already have a lot of land? And I have a lot of other charities I have to donate to at the end of the year. Why should this one make my list?'
ROSE-BURNEY: Well, what makes Mossy Point special, it's a lot of things. Protecting this place will impact so many people not just here but downstream. Water quality in the Niagara River impacts everybody, it impacts our health. If you want to have drinking water, if your kids want to have drinking water, if your great-grandchildren and their grandchildren want to have drinking water [and] want to be able to swim, you have to protect places like Mossy Point. And old-growth forest, that just doesn't exist in very many places, especially in New York State.
And so this isn't just a forest, this is one of the most important forests in the entire region. It's one of the most beautiful places in Western New York, and Western New York is one of the most ecologically important places in North America. You know, the Great Lakes have 84% of North America's surface fresh water [and] 21% of the world's fresh water. This isn't just a regular place. This is one of the most important places in the world, and Mossy Point as a protected forest keeps our region as one of the most important places in the entire world.
MACKIE: Great. I think you just made a pretty good case for a donation.
ROSE-BURNEY: Raising $1.6 million is a lot, and two years ago, I didn't know how we would pull it off. Even six months ago we were half a million dollars away from our end goal and I really didn't know how we would pull it off. Just over the last two, three months, so many people have donated large amounts and small amounts that have gotten us so close that I really am optimistic that we'll meet our goal, protect this place and be celebrating soon.
To learn more or to make a donation to the Mossy Point fund, visit wnylc.org.
*WNYLC's fundraising numbers have been updated since Rose-Burney's interview with WBFO.