Niagara Escarpment Legacy Project
In 2012, the Land Conservancy was awarded $316,673 from the Niagara Greenway Ecological Standing Committee to perform the first comprehensive inventory of the ecological, geological, scenic, and cultural resources of the Niagara County portion of the Niagara Escarpment. The study aimed to identify areas of natural heritage significance; pinpoint opportunities to preserve, restore, and enhance these resources; and provide a set of conservation and restoration priorities and recommendations. The Land Conservancy led this cooperative venture with guidance from community stakeholders and technical and professional support from Ecology & Environment, Inc.
Download the Final Report
What is the Niagara Escarpment?
The Niagara Escarpment is a large geologic feature – a ridge of rock — that formed at the edge of an ancient sea. It spans over 750 miles passing through Wisconsin, Ontario and New York State. You might recognize it as the ridge above Artpark and the Village of Lewiston, or the steep slope that the Erie Canal Locks in Lockport travel up and down. The escarpment contains some of the best exposures of 500 million year old fossils found anywhere in the world. Erosion along the escarpment is responsible for the gorge at Niagara Falls. The escarpment contributes to the micro-climate and soil conditions that make possible Niagara County’s many vineyards and soft fruit belt.
In 2007, the Great Lakes Commission identified the Niagara County portion of the Niagara Escarpment as one of the region’s top five most important habitats for protection and restoration efforts. It is also specifically identified as a priority in the 2006 “New York State Open Space Conservation Plan” because of the “diversity of significant habitats along the length of the Niagara Escarpment in Niagara County.” In Ontario, a walking trail, called the Bruce Trail, goes from one end of the escarpment to the other. The geology, fossil diversity, and ecology of the Ontario-side of the escarpment has drawn the attention of the United Nations, which recognized the Canadian portion as a World Biosphere Reserve in 1990. In response to international recognition, Ontario has developed a land use and protection plan for the escarpment. Major protection initiatives are also taking place in Wisconsin.
Findings from the Study
Despite centuries of human use, and in many cases ‘overuse’, the escarpment has proven to be resilient. We have found: high ecological diversity; important species of rare and protected plants and animals, including plants like the shellbark hickory, smooth cliffbrake, and yellow giant hyssop, the blue-spotted salamander, and birds like the Cooper’s hawk, vesper sparrow, and the grasshopper sparrow; unexpected and locally rare ecological communities like oak openings, alvar shrubland, and the alvar woodland; and important cultural features including places sacred to the Haudenosaunee, sites related to the building of the Erie Canal, and ‘witness trees’ that are old enough to have seen the War of 1812 and other important historical events that define our region.
Support for the Project
Throughout the project, the Land Conservancy engaged a steering committee and broad set of stakeholders from the region that include public officials, local and state agencies, landowners, and others. The Land Conservancy’s efforts to preserve the Niagara Escarpment have also been supported with funding from the New York State Conservation Partnership Program administered by the Land Trust Alliance, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Hahn Family Foundation, HSBC, First Niagara Bank, and Rotary Club of Lockport. Local municipalities and organizations which supported the proposal include: the Towns of Cambria, Lewiston, Lockport, and Royalton, as well as the Village of Lewiston, NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Niagara County Department of Public Works, Buildings and Grounds and Parks and Recreation Division, and the Niagara County Soil and Water District.
This study has confirmed that the Niagara Escarpment is important and resilient, but has also shown that it is vulnerable. We have identified five properties that we consider to be candidates for preservation. At least two of these may be sold in the short term unless we are able to secure funding for their preservation. In 2011, the Land Conservancy purchased its first property along the Escarpment, called the Niagara Escarpment Preserve. Read more about it HERE. Our hope is that we will be reporting back to you with new conservation success stories from the Niagara Escarpment soon.