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Hoping to save a 'Dream of Green' for the Town of Niagara

Conservancy trying to negotiate deal to allow nature preserve project to go forward
Posted at 6:19 PM, Sep 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-07 18:29:59-04

TOWN OF NIAGARA, N.Y. (WKBW-TV) — Joan Johnson and Terry Lasher Winslow are hoping that lawyers can save their dream for a new nature preserve near Miller Road in the Town of Niagara.

The two women are leaders with a non-profit group called the Town of Niagara Farmland Conservancy which hopes to buy 26.3 acres of old farmland and convert it into a nature preserve with trails, pond, overlook and nature learning areas. It would be called the Joseph Sutherland Farm and Nature area.

Students from Niagara Wheatfield Schools and Niagara University are expected to take part in helping survey the area which could then be used for education.

"It would also be a place for students to learn about aquatic habitats," explained Joan Johnson, president of the conservancy.

The project is also seen as a way to protect what little remains of farmland in this part of the Town of Niagara (near Miller Road, Colonial Drive, Garlow Road).

"When we were kids, the farms were behind us, in front of us and down the road," said Lasher Winslow, who grew up on Miller Road and is vice president of the conservancy.

The project has strong support from residents in the area and the Town of Niagara.

Three years of work had progressed to the point where the conservancy had signed a 'contingency' agreement to buy the property from its Canadian owners, as approval for a $146,000 grant from the Power Authority and Niagara River Greenway Commission seemed likely.

Then COVID-19 hit.

"When Covid came in, that was very frustrating because everything came to a standstill," said Lasher Winslow.

Another bidder made an offer on the property in June, explained Lasher Winslow, which gave the owners second thoughts and put the sale in limbo.

"We were heartbroken. We were devastated," added Joan Johnson.

In order to prove that the conservancy was serious, family and friends put together $95,000.

A few weeks later in August, the $146,000 check to purchase the property was sent by the New York Power Authority.

At first, there was no response from the unnamed Canadian owners, said Johnson, but that recently changed as attorneys are now negotiating to see if the conservancy can buy the majority of the parcel, with a small section, possibly three acres, reserved for the development of a home.

"We don't want to sue anybody. We just want to get going with our project," explained Johnson.

If the deal is not completed, the grant money will have to be returned.

"So, we'll see what happens. I don't know," Johnson told reporter Ed Reilly but adding that she is a little more positive that something can be worked out.

"We are hoping that maybe they will take the higher road and let us have the plans that we have for the future," said Terry Lasher Winslow.

The Town of Niagara Farmland Conservancy is asking people who support the project to post messages on its website and Facebook page. Those messages will be used to try and convince the farmland owners to sell the property for use as a nature preserve.