BUFFALO, N.Y. - It is a sanctuary growing on Buffalo's industrial legacy. While ghosts of its toxic past still haunt Times Beach Nature Preserve, its thriving life tells a different tale, one of the incredible resiliency of nature as well as the determination of community to preserve a unique location.
Times Beach has had a colorful history, and not all of it good. It was once a bustling shantytown, and a center of commerce. In the 1940's the US Army Corp Of Engineers began using the site as a dumping ground for dredged materials from the Buffalo River and Harbor.
The place eventually became so contaminated that it was closed and abandoned by the mid 70's. But the environment is nothing if not determined, and once again left undisturbed, Mother Nature re-established herself .
"It became a critical site for migrating birds and other things like beneficial insects and pollinators," says Jay Burney, founder of Friends Of Times Beach Nature Preserve. "Several years later, in the mid to late 1970's a group of concerned citizens got together and said, let's designate this as a real nature preserve."
The preserve, which resides within the shadow of downtown Buffalo, is one of a vanishing number of undeveloped green space along the Great Lakes. All the more reason to keep it undisturbed.
"We don't like losing biodiversity, we don't like fragmenting our habitat, so preserving places like this is incredibly important," says Burney. "This is a unique place in the Great Lakes, there aren't any other places like this, this is one of the most productive bird areas in the entire Great Lakes, and it's in downtown Buffalo."
But there are challenges to keeping such a beautiful area in its natural state, and the preserve is being pressured from more than one source.
Development on lands nearby is placing stress on migrating birds and is crowding the preserve's natural boundaries. The land is also being subjugated by nature itself, and is overrun with invasive plant life.
Beautiful yet deadly, plants like phragmites, mugwort and japanese knotweed are dominating the landscape at Times Beach, crowding out native plants and causing a decrease in biodiversity.
"For instance, phragmites, which is one the plants which has taken over our cattail marsh, supports maybe six or seven native species," says Burney. "The cattail marsh ecological system which it's replacing supports as much as 600 - 900 native species, so an invasive species just isn't as ecologically productive."
That's why there's a project beginning in the fall to rid the land of invasive's and restore it to its native state.
"The project is going to last several years, maybe as much as five years," says Burney. "We're going to be working on restoration efforts to bring back more native species here. The Corp Of Engineers is working with Ecology & Environment, Erie County, and the Friends Of Times Beach to make sure that this place returns to a very ecologically productive area for migrating and breeding birds, and pollinators."
Observing that change should be like watching a living classroom teaching of the persistence of nature. Times Beach remains a fascinating jewel along Buffalo's waterfront, full of abundant life, and one well worth protecting for generations to come.
"There is development going on on the waterfront, this is described as by a many people as an anchor to the value of that development," says Burney. "We hope that development will be respectful that this is a nature preserve, that we are on the Great Lakes, which contain one-fifth of the worlds fresh surface water. This is an important place for biodiversity, if we protect it and conserve it, it'll mean a lot to the future of Buffalo, both economically and culturally."
If you'd like to further discover Times Beach Nature Preserve, you can begin by visiting their website at www.friendsoftimesbeachnp.org.