Ribbon-cutting Celebrates the Opening of the Mill Road Scenic Overlook in Aurora | Community Spirit
After a multi-year community effort that raised more than $650,000 to save one of the most iconic and cherished properties along the WNY Southtowns Scenic Byway, the Mill Road Scenic Overlook is now protected and a roadside pull-off is in place to allow for safe access to the property’s extraordinary views. On Tuesday morning, Sept. 30, the project team cut a ribbon to open the overlook to the public and celebrate the hundreds of supporters who led the community effort.
Speakers at the event included Town of Aurora Supervisor James Bach, project supporter and donor Ellen Neumaier, Friends of Mill Road co-chair Kathy Lasher, and fellow co-chair and Western New York Land Conservancy Executive Director Nancy Smith. Attendees included project donors, representatives from local foundations, and elected officials and their staff.
Supervisor Bach said, “The view from this property has been an important part of our town for generations. A couple of years ago, when a few people realized that it could be lost, they organized to save it. Those few people grew in numbers to become hundreds. Because of their work, the Mill Road Scenic Overlook will be a community asset for centuries to come.”
The Town of Aurora now owns the 60-acre Mill Road Scenic Overlook property which is comprised of what were two separate parcels, and the Land Conservancy holds a conservation easement on it, protecting it in perpetuity. The Mill Road Scenic Overlook offers spectacular views across a broad valley, breathtaking in all four seasons. Visitors, who have long stopped along the road to take a photo of the view, can now do so safely at the roadside pull-off.
Barbara Closs, the previous owner of the largest parcel that makes up the Mill Road Scenic Overlook said, “This land was in our family for many generations, and it was farmed for most of that time. We always knew how important the view was to the entire community. Our family – especially my late husband Clint – along with the neighboring Sievenpipers who sold a portion of their land so that it could be included in the overlook, wanted this land to be protected for people to visit and enjoy.”
The Mill Road Scenic Overlook is important for more than just its views – it is also an important wildlife habitat. The property includes acres of dense forest and a large meadow on its slope. This meadow is home to the playful bobolink and colorful eastern meadowlark, birds that nest in the tall grasses there. The recent “State of the Birds 2014” report says that like other eastern grassland species, the bobolink and eastern meadowlark have continued a steady and precipitous decline over the past few decades. The main cause is the loss of habitat, especially pasturelands, due to urban development and changing farming practices. The report was authored by the U.S. Committee of the North American Bird Conservation Initiative – a 23-member partnership of government agencies and organizations dedicated to advancing bird conservation. Protecting the Mill Road Scenic Overlook and maintaining its grassy meadow will help sustain the bobolink and eastern meadowlark populations.
Nancy Smith, executive director of the Land Conservancy and co-chair of the Friends of Mill Road said, “At the Land Conservancy, it is our job to protect the most important forests, meadows, streams and farmland in our region, both for the benefit of nature and for people. This work is good for families and entire communities. The Mill Road Scenic Overlook is a perfect example of how protecting land can have a profound positive impact on our region’s environmental health, high quality of life, and economy.”
In fact, numerous studies have shown that preserving open spaces like the Mill Road Scenic Overlook can have a direct economic impact on the local economy. Open spaces generate spending on outdoor recreation like hiking and birdwatching, which supports local business and creates jobs. The Outdoor Industry Foundation estimated that active outdoor recreation in New York State supports 130,000 jobs in the state, generates nearly $800 million in annual state tax revenue, and produces $11.3 billion annually in retail sales and services across the state (Outdoor Industry Foundation 2006). Open spaces also attract tourists. One recent study in Ulster County, N.Y., found that visitors to three nature preserves there had a total annual impact of $12.3 million on local economies.
In addition, open spaces provide ecosystem services like water filtration and flood control – think clean drinking water and dry basements – at far lower costs than engineered infrastructure. Studies have valued these ecosystem services to be in thousands of dollars per acre annually.
But that’s not all. Protected open spaces can also increase nearby property values. That’s good for homeowners, and it’s good for municipal coffers. As property values go up, property tax revenue for local towns can increase without having to raise tax rates. Local proof of this can be seen in the Town of Clarence. After 10 years of experience with the Clarence Greenprint, an open space preservation program funded by the town that has now protected more than 1,300 acres of forests and farmland, a study revealed an average increase of 15 percent in the sale price of properties adjacent to preserved open space. Data shows the average appreciation rate of properties in Clarence following adoption of this program to have been five times that of comparable towns in the region. Moreover, Clarence’s tax rate is now 30 percent lower than in comparable communities in the area.
According to Friends of Mill Road co-chair Kathy Lasher, “Protecting the Mill Road Scenic Overlook truly was an extraordinary achievement, one that will have lasting economic benefits. We are grateful to the hundreds of donors, the many volunteers who put in countless hours of work, the landowners whose commitment ensured the success of the project, the numerous local and regional elected officials who gave their support throughout the process, and the staff from the Land Conservancy who guided us along the way.”
Nancy Smith added, “The community of people – who gave their time, shared their ideas and donated their financial resources – are the Mill Road Scenic Overlook heroes.”
The effort to protect the Mill Road Scenic Overlook and open it to the public saw hundreds of donations come in from local individuals and businesses, including $200,000 from Scott Bieler and Kathy Lasher, a $50,000 anonymous donation, and $50,000 from Gerhard and Ellen Neumaier. Financial support also included $75,000 from the John R. Oishei Foundation and $20,000 from the Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo. The project also received in-kind donations from William Schutt & Associates, LaBella Associates PC, Earth Dimensions, Inc., and C&S Engineers, Inc. In the end, nearly all of the money for this more than $650,000 project came from right here in Western New York.
For more information about the Mill Road Scenic Overlook, please visit www.wnylc.org or contact Nancy Smith at (716) 432-1777 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Kathy Lasher at (716) 861-5498 or email@example.com.
The Western New York Land Conservancy is a not-for-profit land trust that has helped protect more than 6,000 acres of land including scenic vistas, forested lands, fragile natural ecosystems, lakefront shorelines and working farms across the eight counties of Western New York. For more information on upcoming events, volunteer opportunities, or to donate to the Western New York Land Conservancy, please call (716) 687-1225 or visit www.wnylc.org.
The John R. Oishei Foundation strives to be a catalyst for change to enhance economic vitality and quality of life for the Buffalo Niagara region through grantmaking, leadership and network building. The Foundation was established in 1940 by John R. Oishei, founder of Trico Products Corporation.