The Owens Falls Sanctuary

The WaterfallThe Owens Falls Sanctuary is one of Western New York’s best kept secrets. A tranquil hemlock forest where a cool, clear stream meanders through a deep ravine and cascades over dark shale ledges. Over the rush of two spectacular waterfalls, springtime brings a chorus of spring peepers and on a warm summer day you can hear the eerie flute-like song of the wood thrush. On the coldest winter nights, you can hear the wind passing through the snow-draped trees. The 57-acre property’s creek, its headwater forests, vernal pools, and wetlands provide a haven for rare wildlife and improve water quality throughout our region.

Until recently, the property was listed for sale and was a very tempting spot to build homes, clear away trees, and add pavement. The Land Conservancy had just ten months to purchase the land and prevent this treasure from being forever changed.

Did you see The Owens Falls Sanctuary on WGRZ’s 2 the Outdoors?

WHAT WILL IT BECOME?Tree along the ravine

Access to The Owens Falls Sanctuary, known to some as Jackson Falls or Mother Falls, has always been limited, but once the land is protected, the preserve will be open for all to enjoy. There will be a trail system for hiking and snowshoeing, and new benches will allow visitors to enjoy a quiet moment in nature. The Land Conservancy will bring visitors to participate in nature hikes and environmental programs, and ensure the property is carefully stewarded for future generations.


Creating the Owens Falls Sanctuary will save part of our heritage. East Aurora is home to the world-famous Roycroft Campus and Arts and Crafts community. The romance and idealism of the Roycroft way of life drew one of the Roycroft’s earliest artisans, Cecil Jackson, to purchase the Owens Falls property more than 100 years ago. From here, he could look over the entire Village of East Aurora.

Creating this preserve will benefit residents and visitors alike. Few places are as serene as Owens Falls. The breathtaking views of the forest and the falls are a magnificent backdrop for a hike or a snowshoeing adventure. The preserve will be a wellness resource for the community where people of all ages can enjoy year-round recreational outdoors. It will be a place where people can come to be immersed in the wild and to learn about our natural world.

Moss and a tiny pineconeThe creation of this preserve will also have economic benefits. The Owens Falls Sanctuary will support tourism, bringing visitors to the community who will spend money locally. It will make East Aurora and our region a place where people want to live, work and play. Open spaces boost local property values, increasing tax revenues without increasing tax rates. They save taxpayers money by providing ecosystem services – think flood control and clean drinking water – without having to build expensive infrastructure to do the same.


Owens Falls’ incredible waterfalls, headwater forests, wooded wetlands, and vernal pools are home to many rare and declining plants and animals. This includes migratory songbirds like the brilliantly colored Cape May warbler and scarlet tanager. It also includes frogs and salamanders who need the wetlands and vernal pools to live and breed. Protecting their habitats is vital to their survival.

Salamander at Mother's Falls

The Great Lakes Basin contains 84% of the surface freshwater of North America and 21% of the world’s surface freshwater. Owens Falls is part of this much larger system. Mann’s Creek flows through the property, over the two waterfalls, and into the East Branch of the Cazenovia Creek. The East Branch later combines with the West Branch of the Cazenovia Creek and runs into the Buffalo River and ultimately into the Niagara River. Protecting Owens Falls’ headwater forests and wetlands will ensure that we can drink, swim, and fish from our Great Lakes.

Do you want to learn more about headwater forests?
Find out Where Rivers are Born

Once protected, The Owens Falls Sanctuary will become part of a corridor of conserved open space along the Cazenovia Creek in Aurora. These spaces include the Town of Aurora’s 158-acre Major’s Park, an undeveloped nature preserve roughly 300 feet from Owens Falls, and the Village of East Aurora’s 6-acre Cazenovia Creek Nature Sanctuary, less than one mile from Owens Falls.


Shale rockAt the Western New York Land Conservancy’s 25th Anniversary Gala on Wednesday, September 21, 2016, we announced that The Owens Falls Sanctuary fundraising goal of $600,000 had been surpassed. The Golden Ballroom at Statler City was filled with thunderous applause and cheers as more than 270 guests celebrated this milestone in the journey to create the new nature preserve.

The Land Conservancy and the Friends of Owens Falls, a 30-person group of community members committed to protecting the property had only until October 31st to raise the $600,000 needed to purchase the property. This was a daunting task, as it took two and a half years to raise a similar amount to protect Aurora’s Mill Road Scenic Overlook. This time, the Land Conservancy had only 10 months. The group, led by Nancy Smith of the Western New York Land Conservancy and Kerrie Gallo of Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, was up to the challenge.

Hundreds of donations from the community, as well as contributions from the Gallogly Family Foundation and the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, and a grant from the US Fish and Wildlife Service brought the fundraising campaign past the halfway point. It was the $200,000 donation from Barbara and Don Owens, neighbors to the preserve, that brought the campaign over the fundraising goal. The property, which has been called Jackson Falls throughout the campaign, will be named The Owens Falls Sanctuary in honor of Barbara and Don.

Mann's Creek flowing over shale ledges

Friends of Owens Falls

Martha Augat; Bill Bernhardi; Barry Boyer; Larry Brickman; Rachel Chrostowski; Mike Croft; Alexis Dickerson; Kateri Ewing; Deb Fenn; Kerrie Gallo, Co-chair; Jean Hughes; John Hughes; Grace Meibohm; Ellen Moomaw; Dale Morris; Ellen Neumaier; Joyce Ortman; Rick Ohler; Tom Pafk; Kim Phillips; Tony Rupp; Nancy Smith, Co-chair; Martha Townson; Michael Tunkey; Sue Tunkey; Judy Weidemann

Advisory Committee

Mary Flickinger; Kathy Lasher; Libby Weberg