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LEWISTON – A plan to establish a nature preserve along the Niagara River has received a $1.8 million grant, project representatives announced Thursday.

The Western New York Land Conservancy has previously announced plans to create the 29-acre Stella Niagara Preserve, which they said would be the first preserve along the river owned and operated by a nonprofit.

The land is located between the river and Lower River Road near Pletcher Road, adjacent to Stella Niagara Education Park. It has 1,474 feet of shoreline and is owned by the Sisters of St. Francis, who have their mother house on the campus across Lower River Road from this land. They have owned 130 acres in the area since 1907.

“Our goal is to continue their legacy of careful stewardship of this extraordinarily unique and ecologically and historically important property, while at the same time providing opportunities for new public access to the Niagara River,” Nancy Smith, executive director of the conservancy, said.

The award comes from the Habitat Enhancement and Restoration Fund, established through one of the relicensing agreements between the New York Power Authority and various area stakeholders. The fund was established in 2007 with $16.2 million from the Power Authority.

Earlier this year, the project received $500,000 from the Niagara River Greenway Ecological Standing Committee, which receives $1 million annually through the relicensing deals.

The plan calls for restoration of grassland and habitat, while opening it to the public with walking trails, fishing and kayak access.

Historically, the land was an important canoe landing site for the Haudenosaunee and is the location where the British landed in 1813 to capture Fort Niagara, according to the conservancy.

In a statement, Greg Stevens, chairman of the Niagara River Greenway Commission, said, “The Stella Niagara Preserve represents an important accomplishment in our vision of creating a necklace of protected and publicly accessible open spaces along the length of the Niagara River.”

The grant leaves the project only $800,000 from its fundraising goal of $3.1 million, which will allow for the purchase of land and an ongoing maintenance fund.

The funding gives the conservancy enough to purchase the land at the asking price of $2.25 million, but the organization wants to have additional funds for upkeep before finalizing the purchase.

Anyone interested in supporting the project should call 687-1225 or email nancyrs@wnylc.org.

“We are relying on our Western New York community to step up and ensure that this important piece of our heritage is secured,” Smith said.

The Hahn Family Foundation recently donated $15,000 for the project.

email: abesecker@buffnews.com