A Park Deserves Protection

 

(This column was first published in the December 15, 2003 issue of The Buffalo News.)

 

This season of good will would be a perfect time for the Amherst Town Council to end its opposition in court to the Nature View Park Conservation Easement.

 

I have a vested interest in this matter as I have spent hundreds of hours in this park. Since 1996 I have censused birds there and with Robin Drake, Jim Pawlicki and Nick Sly I've continued park visits the past two years for the state Atlas of Breeding Birds. Over that time we have recorded over one hundred species with seventy nesting there. Most unusual was the golden-winged warbler that Jim found this past summer.

 

I have also served for several years on the Nature View Advisory Committee, a committee essentially inactive now because of the questionable status of the park.

 

Initially I didn't think much of Nature View Park. Most is old farmland returning through lack of use to its natural state. When I first went there it was also strewn with deserted cars and other refuse. Those are gone now, however, and over my eight years there, the park has continued reverting to a stable ecosystem. Today it has miles of trails and a rich variety of habitat. Although it is largely undeveloped and its trails are unmarked, it is well worth a visit.

 

The Nature View trailhead and parking area is on the south side of Tonawanda Creek Road across from Brenon Road, between Sweet Home and Campbell Blvd. One warning: as I can attest from personal experience, it is easy to get lost in this two square mile area. If you visit, take a compass or a GPS device.

 

To guarantee park protection the Amherst Town Council and the Nature View Advisory Committee invited Western New York Land Conservancy (WNYLC) to develop a conservation easement for the property. A sixteen-page agreement was carefully worked out with the Amherst Planning Department and the Town Attorney with advice from other town departments and the advisory committee. This agreement was approved by the Town Council in December 1999, and the town agreed to pay WNYLC a single $69,084 payment for its perpetual monitoring and legal defense.

 

Against the advice of the Town Attorney and over widespread protests from conservation groups and nearby residents, this agreement was later rescinded and WNYLC was forced to seek relief in the courts. Interestingly, the member who initiated this action no longer serves on the Amherst Council.

 

So far the town has lost twice in court but their lawyers continue to extend this action and it appears that it will not be settled for another several years.

 

To me as an outsider to the law - thank goodness - the Town's argument, that it would be "illegally" giving away municipal property, seems wrong on three counts. This property would remain theirs but is simply being protected by the conservation organization. A number of similar easements are in force in other communities. And the town itself has similar agreements with other agencies. A better case for my view is on the web at: www.wnylc.org/NatureView.htm.

 

Whether I am right or not can, of course, be settled in court, but there is a problem with continuing that approach. The ongoing court battle has already cost WNYLC about $30,000, which is seriously punishing a public service organization that has an important record in protecting lands in this region and that survives on public donations. The town on the other hand has deep pockets and can continue this matter indefinitely.

 

I appeal to Amherst Councilmembers at this time of good will to rethink this matter.-- Gerry Rising