Southern Tier Sanctuary

12:04 AM, Apr 10, 2013   |    comments
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PORTVILLE, NY--- Although WNY is rich with unique habitat, there are few places as diverse as the Pfeiffer Nature Center in Portville.

From old growth forest to reclaimed farmland, the center has the region's natural history written in every step. The center is actually made up of two tracts of land that could not be more distinct.

The Lillibridge property spans 188 acres of mostly forest that provides visitors with a glimpse of the procession of the ecology.

The Eshelman land is over 400 acres of fields and creeks that once was thriving farmland. The land is hidden with the Enchanted Mountains of the Southern Tier, a place one the edge of the glacial history of the region. Now lush with growth, the area was once plundered by the lumber industry, providing wood that contributed to the history of the nation. Susan Avery is the center's Naturalist." The lumber was used to build Pittsburgh, build St. Louis, places as far south as New Orleans, so as we progressed past the Mississippi River, a lot of that building is a result of the fact that the lumber was available in Western New York."

It's ironic then that the Lillibridge property was donated to the community by Wendy Pfeiffer Lawrence, the daughter of a former lumbering magnate, and the nature center was established in 1998.

The acreage we see today was cherished by the family and remained intact despite being surrounded by timber that was being taken down in the name of progress. Part of the forest on this land is old growth, a rare and dwindling habitat, Avery explains." Old growth forests are very rare, in NY State they define old growth as over 150, we have trees that are over 250 years old in the stand, it's not virgin, obviously it's been touched by man at some point, but an old growth forest gives people an opportunity to see what a forest would look like when it matures." Margaret Cherre is Pfeiffer's Executive Director.
" We know, across the country, most people will not travel more than about fifty to a hundred feet from their car, from the parking lot, and here you can be in an old growth forest in that amount of time."

Moving out of the old growth, hikers pass into a younger forest and open fields sprouting brand new growth. It's a diversity seldom seen in one area,says Avery." It's like being able to see China and England and Morocco all in the same location, you have three very distinct ecosystems right next to one another and those transition zones provide a wealth of opportunities to explore."

The Pfeiffer family's summer cabin, built in the thirties, is still standing strong on the land.

The log cabin is built of American Chestnut, a once thriving tree devastated by disease, that is now all but extinct in Eastern North America. Avery says the cabin and a few surviving trees are a testament to a species that once numbered over 3 billion. " Today we have the cabin as a remnant and that's one of the reasons why it's on the National Historic Registry because of the materials that it's built of and it's construction style, but our forest has remnants as well."

The center could not flourish without it's dedicated volunteers who are carrying the center's philosophy like seeds in the wind.

Michael Grosso has been associated with Pfeiffer since a very young age." I got acquainted very early with Pfeiffer Nature Center with some of the programs they've had up here and eventually figured out this is what I like, and got the opportunity to sort of return the favor a little bit, helping other kids learn about this great preserve." Rebekah Schimp is also a volunteer at the center." I get to think about how this can be fun for kids, how this can be educational for kids,I get to think about how can they get outside and learn something and have fun at the same time, how can I get other kids involved so that they learn about this and hopefully get the kind of same experience that I did, and hopefully get the same desire and respect to protect what we have."

Cherre explains that as the center celebrates it's fifteenth year of education and preservation, it draws from it's history to look into the future. " Everything is connected to everything else,and one small piece goes, we just don't know the massive repercussions of that, so helping to look both back and forward at the same time is important."

 To learn more about Pfeiffer Nature Center , visit their website at


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