Lake Erie Bluffs
(This 811th Buffalo Sunday News column was first published on October 15, 2006.)
We are blessed with many fine conservationists in western New York: Bob Andrle, David Hahn Baker, Jim Battaglia, Larry Beahan, Jay Burney, Roger Black and Ernst Both immediately come to mind and that just covers the first two letters of the alphabet.
But near the top of any regional list is Sharen Trembath of Angola. Sharen is the woman who has developed the local beach sweep into a biannual clean-up with hundreds of volunteers gathering tons of trash. You need only walk along Lake Erie or Lake Ontario shores immediately before and after these activities to see their effect: it is a trip from garbage pit to lovely scene. Sharen has not only organized trash gatherers, but also commercial sponsors and local politicians to carry off these tasks. She is a force to be reckoned with.
And now, as county and Lake Erie shoreline town politicians are learning, she has a new project. This time she seeks to prevent the sale of another series of lovely Erie lakeshore properties to developers. She has conservation organizations like Sierra Club, Adirondack Mountain Club and the Southtowns Walleye Association but, as usual, Sharen is doing the heavy lifting. Politicians pay attention when she shows up at town and county meetings.
Sharen Trembath at Sturgeon Point
One morning last week I joined her at the smallest of the three areas with which she is concerned, a 58-acre park beside the marina at Sturgeon Point. It was a lovely morning and the bright sun, still low in the sky, reflected off the lake. When I agreed to meet Sharen there, I didn't realize that I had been at this spot once before.
On that day twenty years ago, Mike Galas and I were assigned to a large area southwest of Buffalo on the Buffalo Ornithological Society's annual April Count. We arrived at Sturgeon Point early that morning as well. At first the woods seemed quiet and we looked out over the lake to record a few migrating waterfowl.
But then land birds began to appear. Sometimes just one or two, other times large flocks, all moving northeast. The first birds that caught our notice were bluebirds. Most just flew past but one stopped to sing that plaintive throaty "Here am I" song that I so enjoy. Then a big flock of jays came by, all absolutely silent -- unusual for this species. And now blackbirds: most red-wings, grackles and starlings but with a few rusty blackbirds among them. We could pick out the latter by their distinctive rusted hinge creaking.
We had a big area to cover but this was too good to miss. We decided to stay awhile to watch the birds and were immediately rewarded. A striking pair of red-headed woodpeckers stopped on a dead snag, gave us a clear view and then flew on. After that the rest was anticlimax, but among the species recorded were meadowlarks, several sparrow species, Carolina wren, two hermit thrushes, lots of robins, phoebe, kingfisher, tree swallows, creepers, nuthatches and dozens of chickadees. Mike and I have often talked about that morning, but although we had never returned, this spot continues to hold a special place in our hearts.
Thankfully, a first attempt to sell this property failed. The only bid, for a hotel complex, was too much even for the politicians.
Why not protect it from development? It is isolated by the marina and the water treatment plant. And why not protect the nearby threatened county lands, Wendt Beach and Bennett Beach, two other properties Sharen is concerned about? It seems as though it should be easy to protect these areas, but their sale can mean a few cents off tax bills which continues to be the only measure for too many of us. And there is an even more fundamental problem. These parklands are underused by this TV generation so staffing is reduced, facilities depreciate and vandals take over. Meanwhile developers hover over them like vultures.
There is a possible solution. Turn these lands over to the state to become part of its Open Space Conservation Plan. Whether that would work or not, I join Sharen to plead with our town and county politicians not to take the short view and sell off these valuable properties.
For more information about Sharen's work, see her website. http://www.greatlakesbeachsweep.com/.