Marcy's Woods

(This column was first published in the February 26, 2001 Buffalo News.)

      Here in New York the name Marcy is associated with our highest mountain. In nearby Canada citizens concerned about our natural heritage tie that name instead to a unique sanctuary that is now threatened.

      Marcy's Woods is located between Point Abino and Sherkston Beach a dozen miles west of the Peace Bridge in Ontario. Privately owned by the Marcy family, this unusual forested dune habitat has been maintained as an area for scientific study for many years.

      It has been my good fortune to have visited this property often, each time more impressed with the spectacular diversity of its wildlife. For example, one summer evening I joined lepidopterists collecting moths. The specialists were almost continuously oohing and aahing as they examined insects they had never seen before. Later when they checked provincial records, they found that dozens of the species were new to Ontario.

      The area of the Marcy's Woods property is only three-fourths square mile yet you find yourself in a wilderness, cut off from civilization, as soon as you enter the dune area. A walk along the paths through the dense sugar maple-red oak forest and in the lower areas through swampy thickets is like a roller-coaster ride up and down ever steeper hills. Atop one of the hills is a rustic cottage, that and a few trail improvements among the few signs of the outside world. But following the trails south brings you suddenly out onto an overlook exposing the broad beach and Lake Erie far below. Across this vast panorama you can see the American shoreline in the distance.

      Many scientists consider this second only to the Niagara Gorge among the most important natural areas of the Niagara Region. Consider their description of this property: "Marcy's Woods is undoubtedly one of the most significant privately owned natural areas in Ontario's Carolinian Zone." "Its herb richness was unmatched among the 34 high-quality woodlands sampled in southern Ontario." It is "a provincially significant wetland and...life science Area of Natural and Scientific Interest." "Marcy Woods possesses extraordinary natural value, is an outstanding exemplar of the natural heritage of Carolinian Canada, and consequently merits the highest degree of protection." And "The intrinsic natural values and habitats of the Marcy Farm complement the extraordinary natural heritage of the Marcy Woods."

      Consider a sampling of wildlife found there: nesting Acadian flycatchers, hooded warblers and red-headed woodpeckers; narrow-winged tree crickets -- "an exceedingly rare insect in Ontario"; Fowler's toads, eastern hognose snakes and Western chorus frogs -- "the first I have observed in 25 years of fieldwork"; Peck's skippers and giant swallowtail butterflies; rainbow bluet damselflies and wandering glider dragonflies; southern flying squirrels; and among the many rare plants: swamp agrimony, white wood aster, Appalachian sedge, spring avens, hop-tree and (on the beach) trailing wild bean.

      Dr. George Marcy, the owner of this property after whom it was named, was an honored physician at the University at Buffalo Medical School. He and after his death his family have preserved this wilderness as a sanctuary for many years. Now, unfortunately, they are under increasing pressure to sell to developers who are substantially outbidding conservation agencies.

      New Yorkers able to do so can help by donating funds to the Western New York Chapter of Nature Conservancy (attention David Kline) designating support for purchase of this property.

      It would be a tragedy to lose this remarkable preserve. I urge all involved in the current negotiations to seek the means to protect this unique habitat as a nature park open to the public.-- Gerry Rising