The Niagara Gorge is one of the oldest and most spectacular natural landscapes in Western New York. It is a wilderness in the midst of urban sprawl, and the influence of man has caused significant changes to its ecology. Chief among these has been the introduction of invasive plants which are a threat to native plants and wildlife.
"They degrade wildlife habitat," explains David Spiering, Conservation Project Manager of the WNY Land Conservancy. "They degrade ecosystem function, like nutrient cycling and carbon uptake and how they purify water before it gets into the rivers and waterways, and they really don't support that native biodiversity that native plants support."
That will all change soon, as the WNY Land Conservancy was recently awarded a grant to do extensive work to improve the area between the Whirlpool Bridge and the Discovery Center and to restore the native ecology. They've received a grant from the Niagara River Greenway Committee and hope to add to that through the Buffalo Billion Plan.
"Our initial funding was about a million dollars in the 43 acres that you see here between the railroad bridges and the Discovery Center," said Nancy Smith, the group's Executive Director. "The Governor is proposing to add funding from the Buffalo Billion to expand the project to the area around Whirlpool State Park and Devil's Hole."
In addition to the work with invasives, the project will bring in nationally recognized organizations to do work along the gorge rim and to add grasslands in the parking area at the trailhead. Spiering says this will help restore legendary landscape artist Fredrick Law Olmstead's original plan for the greenway.
"This is a key part of the Niagara River Greenway, which Olmstead had his vision for, and being so close to Niagara Falls and right along the river, this is a fantastic place to fulfill that vision and continue it into the future," said Spiering.
It's a unique project that will also renew the link to the surrounding neighborhood and increase eco- tourism. The trail is just across the street from the brand new Niagara Falls train station. "If you're at the train station and you have an hour extra, you can come over and spend time in the gorge and realize it's a place you want to come back to, and again, adjacent to where our project is unfolding, is the removal of the Niagara Scenic Parkway. That's going to become a ribbon of green that's reconnecting the city residents with both the river and the gorge," said Smith.
It's just another on the growing list of success stories written by the Land Conservancy - an ambitious organization that has been protecting land in our region since 1991. "It's the geologic history, the industrial history, the botanical history. The gorge has it all," says Spiering. "The story of Niagara Falls can be told in the gorge, and we want to make the future of that a good story."
If you'd like to learn more about this project and all of the other great things the Conservancy has done for Western NY, click here