"It's by far and away the most important and prominent geologic aspect of Western New York."
The Niagara Escarpment lies just underfoot yet is mostly unknown, a giant land mass providing habitat for both man and animal. Created by erosion which took millions of years, the escarpment ranges over 700 miles through New York and Ontario and ends up in Wisconsin.
It's the massive foundation that anchors the region, yet most are unaware of the leviathan we all walk upon. Stan Radon is an Engineering Geologist with the NY DEC. "It stretches from Rochester and goes through the Niagara Gorge, and that is of course where Niagara Falls started, it wraps around through Georgian Bay and goes all they way to the western side of Lake Michigan, near Green Bay. So it's a significant feature,and rather continuous."
Nancy Smith is Executive Director of the WNY Land Conservancy. "It's actually pretty well known and pretty well celebrated in Ontario, it's considered a World Biosphere, and in Wisconsin, but in Western New York sometimes it's just hidden in backyards and there's some general awareness of it, but we'd like to elevate that so it becomes a really well established and well known community icon."
Formed by the ages, a walk along the Escarpment is like taking a very big step back in time, says Radon.
"The rocks here along the Escarpment are about two hundred million years older than the dinosaurs, the dinosaurs weren't around yet, and they formed about two hundred million years after really significant life started to form on earth,roughly six hundred million years ago, so we're seeing a small sliver of time."
The Niagara Escarpment's most prominent feature is Niagara Falls, but there are many other more intimate treasures to be found along it's Western New York section... spots like Gulf Wilderness Park and Royalton Ravine. The escarpment also plays home to a wide diversity of flora and fauna found only in the area. Chuck Rosenburg, Senior Ecologist with the NY DEC, explains.
"The plant communities that are adapted to that type of environments are really quite unique , you find them only along the escarpment as far as Niagara County goes,and associated with those communities are a number of plants and animals that similarly are found only within the escarpment communities."
All the more reason to protect as much of the escarpment as possible from development. The Western NY Land Conservancy has contributed toward that end, recently purchasing 36 acres along the escarpment,with plans to preserve much more.
"We're partnering with Ecology and Environment over the next year to create this inventory of plants," says Smith " We'll be selecting twenty sites for intensive evaluation, so we'll be doing field work to look at the geology, culture and all of the plants, we'll be doing bird studies, salamander migration studies, so it will be quite thorough."
And it's an important step to conserving one of the true mammoths of Western New York's green heritage, Smith says.
"We don't know what we have,so in order to make good decisions about what to preserve, where to provide public access and how to raise the visibility of this resource, we need to understand it . "Radon agrees." I've hiked a lot of the Niagara Gorge, from Canada all the way through Medina, you see unique plants and animals and birds right here in Lockport...really great habitat."