Ever since COVID-19 struck, more people are looking at ways to get outside, while practicing social distancing. Fresh air, exercise, and an immersion into natural environments is the prefect remedy for anyone feeling a little cooped up.
In Western NY, we have lots of natural landscapes to explore. I’m not talking about our fabulous parks, I’m talking about unfettered natural landscapes the way that Mother Nature intended. Unfortunately, issues such as urban sprawl and unchecked development have led to the decimation of numerous sacred pastoral places that are, unfortunately forever lost (instead of “Forever Wild”).
That’s why organizations like the WNY Land Conservancy are so important. One of the Conservancy’s agenda’s is to acquire critical “at stake” properties in order to preserve them for future generations to appreciate, not to mention that the environment is constantly under siege. The problem is that the developers will always win, because money is power. While saving these sacred places will ultimately pay off in the long run, buildings and parking lots command immediate returns, typically.
We have seen some environmental success stories as of late, as more people understand the critical nature of saving our natural oft-compromised assets. One of these wins could come in the form of permanently protecting The College Lodge Forest, situated on the Portage Escarpment overlooking the Lake Erie plain, not far from Buffalo (near Fredonia). This scape is composed of a forest, a bird sanctuary, wildflowers, amphibians, and countless other creatures, including many species that are struggling to survive habitat loss, global warming, etc.
Currently, the WNY Land Conservancy is in the midst of raising funds to permanently protect this threatened forested land. From the Conservancy:
The land sits on a continental divide: on one side rainwater drains towards Lake Erie and the Atlantic Ocean, while on the other side it drains towards the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. The heart of the forest is anchored by a large grove of towering old-growth trees hundreds of years old, extremely rare in Western New York. The forest is part of a major flyway for migratory birds that come from as far south as the Amazon rainforest in the spring, such as the plump little Veery with its distinctive flute-like whistle, and from as far north as the Arctic tundra in the fall. It also boasts a stunning diversity of reptiles, amphibians, fish, mammals, and countless other species that have few such sanctuaries left in our region. These include beautiful orchids, carnivorous plants that eat insects, and bryozoans—sometimes referred to as freshwater coral—that live in the marsh. The forest has miles of walking trails named after Muir, Leopold, and Darwin as a testament to the land’s natural significance.
“These past three months have been difficult on our community and our state,” Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul said. “But what I love about Western New Yorkers is our ability to come together during times of crisis. Together, we will get through this and past this, and we will emerge stronger than ever. Getting outdoors to wonderful places like the College Lodge Forest, while maintaining safe social distancing, will be important to continue to keep our numbers low in the coming months—and will give Western New Yorkers the physical and mental boost they need.”
Currently, the lands are owned and overseen by the Faculty Student Association (FSA), a non-profit auxiliary of SUNY Fredonia. The group also operates a lodge, which has been on the site since 1969. In order to afford the maintenance of the forested land and the lodge, the FSA came up with a plant to sell off part of the lands, including old-growth trees, to loggers, which would have been catastrophic to the future of the 168 acre site.
“The College Lodge Forest has been an incredibly important property for both the college and the community over the years,” said Mike Metzger, Vice President of Finance and Administration at SUNY Fredonia. “If you were a student at SUNY Fredonia you know the College Lodge, and you spent time here. As an outdoor classroom, it is a resource for learning and growth. But it is also a valuable spot for our students to go for a hike or ski when they need to get away. We are thrilled to work with the Western New York Land Conservancy to save this amazing place.”
In direct response to the potential sale of irreplaceable acreage to loggers, the Conservancy came up with a plan to purchase the vast majority of the site, while leaving 33 acres and the lodge for the FSA to own and maintain. FSA will use the funds from the sale to operate the 33 acres, while the Conservancy will be responsible for the rest.
“It may be hard for some people to believe,” said New York State Senator George Borrello, who represents District 57 and grew up in Fredonia. “But eighty years ago during the Great Depression, Fredonia college students came together and purchased the forest with their own money to have a place to experience nature. As a result of their foresight, it has become a prized learning laboratory for thousands of teachers, researchers, and students around the globe. And with its long network of trails, open year round, our residents always have a unique place to go to stay active and healthy—especially after weeks stuck at home. Now it’s our turn to save this beautiful forest.”
The a publicly accessible nature preserve will feature plenty of public assets dedicated to community gatherings, bird watching, hiking, snowshoeing, and cross-country ski trails.
“I really like going there for hikes and to see the pond,” said Calder Annear, a rising sophomore at Fredonia High School who recently earned his Eagle Scout rank, and whose troop helps to maintain the trails and build kiosks for visitors. “It’s meant a lot to do the different service projects that help the community enjoy the forest. We get to see how happy it makes people.”
“Since the pandemic began, I’ve been longing for the experiences that make me feel whole: warm hugs, my daughter’s eyes when she smiles, the way voices can fill a room with laughter. We all miss these things. But when my nerves feel raw, I go to the College Lodge Forest to surround myself with nature. I welcome spring wildflowers like trout lilies, trillium, and violets. I celebrate the return of my favorite birds to the forest,” reflected Nancy Smith, Executive Director of the Land Conservancy.
To date, the Conservancy has raised nearly $400,000 – $150,000 from New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (EPF #190587), $203,000 from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and $40,000 by community members. The organization has until December 31, 2020 to reach its $790,000 fundraising goal. That funding will allow for the land purchase, while putting operational aspects in place, thus providing the guidelines for maintaining the land in perpetuity.
Now, the Conservancy is looking to nature lovers to help raise the remaining funds. Whether you appreciate clean flowing waters, spring ephemerals, old-growth trees, or all of the above (hopefully the latter), there are ways that you can leave behind a legacy that will benefit the planet in ways that will ripple outward well beyond our own existence.
At times, it might seem like it’s the end of world, as we see pandemics grip the world, but we must remember that there are ways that we can be proactive. We have seen that nature is vulnerable, which makes us equally vulnerable. The planet and its people are one in the same. We can begin the healing process by safeguarding our immediate surroundings. We can also see the fruits of our investments firsthand, by simply paying a visit to the lands that we provide for – and ultimately steward – through care and compassion.
If you wish to visit, the College Lodge Forest is located at 8067 Route 380 Brocton, NY 14716. For more details on the forest, go to collegelodge.com. To learn more about the Land Conservancy’s efforts to save the College Lodge Forest and to donate to the campaign, visit wnylc.org and contribute online, or send a check made payable to “Western New York Land Conservancy” to P.O. Box 471, East Aurora, NY 14052. Please call or email if you have questions: (716) 687-1225 or firstname.lastname@example.org.