Mill Road Scenic Overlook

Fall colors across the valley.

Fall colors across the valley.

By the end of 2013, in partnership with the Friends of Mill Road and the Town of Aurora, the Western New York Land Conservancy had helped raise $650,000 to protect the Mill Road Scenic Overlook in Aurora. On December 30, 2013, the Town of Aurora purchased the 60-acre property, and the Land Conservancy placed a conservation easement on it to protect it in perpetuity. In June 2014, the project team built a small roadside pull-off for visitors to enjoy the views, and opened the overlook to the public with a ribbon-cutting in September. Take a look at these links for Photos and Video and Radio programs of the overlook construction and ribbon-cutting.

The Mill Road Scenic Overlook is located on Mill Rd. in Aurora, between Sweet and Blakely roads. The pull-off is open to visitors, although there are no trails yet on the property.

As its name implies the overlook site is one of the most scenic locations in our region and it is ideally located along the newly designated WNY Southtowns Scenic Byway. The property is also one of Aurora’s most important natural areas. It includes 18 acres of mature forest with a dense hemlock grove, an intermittent stream, a sedge marsh and 30 acres of open meadow that support rare grassland bird species including nesting populations of bobolinks. It is a frequent destination for those running and biking along Mill Road who will soon have a safe pull-off to stop and admire the magnificent view. When built, the Mill Road Scenic Overlook trails will also provide a place for children and families to get outside.

A Bobolink in the tall grass.

A Bobolink in the tall grass.

Mill Road is a story about a place that is treasured by a family and a community, a place that will now become a regional asset. Preserving it was a six-year long quest. In 2007, the Land Conservancy began an extended series of conversations with Clinton and Barbara Closs. How could we preserve the land that had been owned by their family for over 180 years? The Closses had a strong desire to see that the land would remain a glorious and scenic meadow, a place that would be a home to wildlife and an asset for the community. They knew that generations of Western New Yorkers have enjoyed the spectacular view across the valley, breathtaking in all four seasons with wildflowers in springtime, bright green meadows in summer, the colorful foliage of fall and snow-draped evergreens of winter. With a 180-degree panoramic view to the west, this is the perfect place to watch the mist rise in the morning, or to witness the sun sinking below the ridges at day’s end.

But there were challenges. Like many retired farm families their money was locked into their land, a 401(k) that couldn’t be redeemed without subdividing and developing the land. The process had already begun when ten years ago they sold the northern-most 20 acres to the neighboring Sievenpiper family. Was it possible to craft a partnership with multiple landowners, a municipality and the Land Conservancy? Eventually, a plan was developed. The Town of Aurora would own the land, the Land Conservancy would ensure its permanent preservation and the landowners would allow two full years for funding to be secured.

Visitors search for birds in the meadow.

Visitors search for birds in the meadow.

The next challenge was raising $650,000. A unique partnership was organized to run a multi-faceted capital campaign. A team of volunteers and four committees with over 36 members was formed. A website and Facebook page were developed just for this project. The groups applied for numerous foundation grants, held several fundraising events, and asked for support from hundreds of local businesses and individuals.

The beautiful view from Mill Road.

The beautiful view from Mill Road.

The real tipping point came in the early summer of 2013. The project received two challenge gifts from Aurora residents for a total of $150,000. Of this total, Scott Bieler and Kathy Lasher contributed $100,000 and Gerhard and Ellen Neumaier contributed $50,000. Additional gifts from the community started pouring in. The project received an anonymous $50,000 donation, a $20,000 Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo grant, and a $75,000 John R. Oishei Foundation grant. Scott Bieler and Kathy Lasher gave again at the end of the year, making their total gift worth $200,000, completing the capital campaign. In total, we received support from 59 local businesses and received contributions of all sizes from 319 individual contributors.

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The Mill Road Scenic Overlook was protected in December, 2013.