Kenneglenn Scenic and Nature Preserve
(Adapted from a Rick Ohler / East Aurora Advertiser article)
In February of 2000, the Western New York Land Conservancy, the Friends of Kenneglenn, and The Trust for Public Land mounted a $400,000 capital campaign to raise funds to purchase the Kenneglenn Estate. Through the successful fundraising efforts of this collaborative group, the Land Conservancy purchased the Estate in November of 2000 and established the Kenneglenn Scenic and Nature Preserve.
The Kenneglenn Scenic and Nature Preserve is the crown jewel of the Land Conservancy’s protected places. It is a 131-acre expanse located in Wales, just 30 miles from downtown Buffalo. Kenneglenn includes portions of the spectacular Hunter’s Creek gorge, and features wetlands and forests, as well as beautiful views of the gently rolling hills that are characteristic of southern Erie County. Kenneglenn is also adjacent to the protected Erie County owned Hunter’s Creek County Park, forming a band of protected open space along Hunters Creek.
Tucked away at the end of a dead-end road, down a long, tree-lined gravel driveway not ten minutes from downtown East Aurora, Kenneglenn is a magical place. Its magic lies not only in the breathtaking views of the steep gorge cut by Hunters Creek over the millennia. Or in the deep evergreen and deciduous woods that line the creek. Or the mixture of field, fen, hill and glade that are home to all manner of plants, insects, birds and beasts. What is magic about Kenneglenn is that it came to be at all.
A town such as Wales, and Aurora and Elma and Marilla for that matter, were at first a patchwork quilt of large parcels of land. Much of the land was agricultural—dairy farms with vast expanses of hayfield and cropland to support the needs of the herd. Many of the parcels were forested and provided lumber for mills such as the storied Kuchenbeisser Lumber and the old basket factory in Wales Center where Routes 78 and 20A part company. Some of the land had tree stands and Spartan camps for deer hunting. A very few parcels were just for recreation, second homes for city folk. So it was with Kenneglenn.
In 1920, well-to-do Buffalonians Charles and Florence Kennedy of Forest Avenue bought 400 acres in Wales and named the estate Kenneglenn. Over the next few decades they built a large summer home and two smaller cottages to accommodate a growing family, cousins, nieces and nephews, and in time grandchildren. Helen Kennedy Tirrell, daughter of Charles and Florence, writing in her 1946 reminiscence Memories for Molly, recounted her childhood adventures at Kenneglenn. In 20 marvelous longhand pages she paints portraits of a world as close to paradise as a youngster could get: of hikes and sleepovers and games and family togetherness all centered around this magnificent piece of land.
But in time the family began to scatter—to California, to Minnesota, to Maine—and visits to Kenneglenn became less frequent. Gradually, with the death of the elder Kennedys and Helen Tirrell, a few pieces of Kenneglenn were sold until only 131 acres and the summer cottage called Hillcrest remained. The Tirrell family, Helen’s husband Stan, and children Susan Fagrelius, Priscilla Bisher, David and Hugh Tirrell, faced an important decision. They knew that they wanted a part of Kenneglenn to remain green and wild and open, to some degree, to the public so that everyone could experience its beauty and serenity. And they feared that their land, lying so close to Buffalo and the suburbs, would attract offers from developers. A scenario with Kenneglenn divided into small housing lots or a tract development was not unreasonable.
Susan Tirrell Fagrelius went to work. She contacted then Wales Supervisor Mary Weinman and hatched a plan whereby the town would buy Kenneglenn for a town park. Unfortunately, town residents turned the plan down in a 1999 referendum. Undaunted, Susan got in touch with a grass roots committee called the Friends of Kenneglenn, led by Reverend Jack Prinzenhoff and his wife, Mary. The Friends connected with the Land Conservancy who partnered with the Trust for Public Land and together they launched a campaign to raise money to buy the land from the Tirrell family at a more than reasonable price. Then, as Kenneglenn caretaker Jack Prinzenhoff says in his brief but delightful history called “The Genesis of Kenneglenn,” “On July 17, 2000, members of the Kennedy family, members of the Friends of Kenneglenn, and some directors of the Land Conservancy gathered at Hillcrest for a ‘passing the property and its stewardship’ ceremony.”
Today, the Land Conservancy’s offices are located at Kenneglenn. The preserve is still one of the Land Conservancy’s most scenic and cherished properties. The Land Conservancy holds organized nature hikes – including walks right through the creek – each year.