Big push for Great Lakes watershed preservation

Jul 5, 2016

On a typical mild weather day it’s not unusual to find nature lovers and a few hikers exploring the trails on the Jackson Falls preserve, located in the western New York town of Aurora.


It’s in the watershed area of Lake Erie. Watershed along the Great Lakes Corridor are key when it comes to keeping the Great Lakes clean and many land conservancies play a big role in preserving some of these areas.

The Western New York Land Conservancy is raising money to complete the purchase of Jackson Falls. They would like to turn the property into a nature preserve.

The property is a forested wetland and a range of wildlife call it home.  Smith said it’s a headwater forest which is vital in maintaining the water quality in the Great Lakes watershed area.

“A head water forest acts kind of like a sponge soaking up water and then releasing it gradually cleaning it as it does that controlling the quantity and quality that we all need,” she said. “This is our drinking water, this is the water we swim in, it’s important for fishing when it makes it way to the Great Lakes.”

The land conservancy is raising $600,000 to purchase the 57-acre property. They received a $300,000 grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The funds were a part of the 2014 round of funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

After calculation additional donations, Smith said the conservancy now has to raise about $200,000 to complete the purchase by October.

“It’s a very aggressive time table,” she said. “But I think one of the things that’s kind of firing us all up is the opportunity we know this will be a nature preserve open to everyone or it will be a string of houses and the community will be cut off.”


The land is currently owned by former area resident Steven Searl and his family. Searl’s grandfather Cecil Jackson bought it in the 1920s. Prior to his purchase, Jackson would visit the property across the street with owned by his friend Elbert Hubbard the second. Hubbard was the son of Roycroft founder Elbert Hubbard. Roycroft was a historic arts and crafts community in East Aurora.

“During the 1920's and 1930's my grandfather was in charge of the Roycroft Bank and he and Elbert Hubbard did many things together. Elbert Hubbard had purchased some property across the street, which he used as a hunting lodge and forest. My grandfather visited there several times with other Roycrofters,” said Searl, who said when the property across from Hubbard’s was up for sale Jackson jumped at the chance for purchase.

Searl said the property has been in his family for nearly a century and doesn’t want to see it developed.

“My two brothers and I have basically spent our whole lives going up and walking around and enjoying the forest the waterfall and the ravine,” said Searl, who now lives in Rochester.  “We’re not in a position where we could just donate the land, but we think this is a win-win situation where we can make the land available for the rest of the public to enjoy rather than turn it into a private property where nobody can walk on it.”

There are several land preserves in watershed areas along the Great lakes corridor.  In Wisconsin, the Bayfield Regional Conservancy works with the local government to protect the Houghton Falls Nature Preserve. The 76 acre land is just outside of Lake Superior and features pines, hemlocks, sandstone cliffs and seasonal waterfalls.

The land is owned by the local government, but the Bayfield Regional Conservancy holds a conservation easement on the land to prevent future development. Conservation director for the Bayfield Regional Conservancy Erika Lang says the key behind their preservation efforts through land trusts and easements is to help prevent overdevelopment.

“I think we’ve seen increase in development over the years. What we’re really trying to prevent is too much development,” she said. “That’s what land trusts are all about. Protecting the fish wildlife habitat.”

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