Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Stella Niagara Preserve and Educational Park

Approximately ten years ago, I started going to painting class at Stella Niagara Educational Park, in Lewiston, New York. The class meets twice a month from September until June. The instructor, Virginia Kelley, is a volunteer who loves art and who loves the work and the mission of the Sisters of Saint Francis of Penance and Christian Charity, who run the Stella Niagara Educational Park, as well as the Center of Renewal. The Center of Renewal is a lovely facility that provides hospitality and offers various spiritual retreats. The Stella Niagara Education Park includes a Catholic elementary school for students from pre-kindergarten to eighth grade. In addition, Stella Niagara is a convent and a peace site. The mission of the Franciscan sisters who live there is to live humbly and conserve the land. They are also teachers, who work and teach in the local community, as well as overseas, in such places as Chiapas, Mexico, and Tanzania.

Stella Niagara is located at a very beautiful place in the Town of Lewiston, in Niagara County, New York. I have walked the grounds, and there is much to discover. Some of the grounds are on the shores of the Niagara River. On those grounds is a lovely, though no longer used, chapel.

Just a year ago, Stella Niagara sold 29 acres of waterfront property to the Western New York Land Conservancy after a more than three million dollar fundraising campaign. On the property, there is about a quarter of a mile of shoreline. It is a beautiful piece of undeveloped land. The Land Conservancy has hired landscape architect Darrel Morrison to restore the prairie grassland and a savannah landscape to much of the property.

At last week's meeting of the Grand Island Conservation Advisory Board, two people from the Western New York Land Conservancy come to do a presentation on their work. Our visitors were executive director Nancy Smith and Land Protection Director Patrick McGlew. They offered some description of the ongoing restoration work at Stella Niagara. It happened that they were at Stella Niagara at exactly the same time that I was.

Patrick said, in describing the history of the site: "The British landed there during the War of 1812. The Native Americans used it as a peace site. They had to get along or no one could navigate the river."

As for the current condition of the land: "There are a lot of species of vegetation there that does not belong. There was a lot of invasive species. Much work has been done to remove those. We are working with landscape architect Darrel Morrison. A flowing and sweeping trail system, with native species, is being put in. All of the plantings will be geared toward the soil, and they will all be native."

The day that Nancy and Patrick visited the Stella Niagara Preserve, work was being done to dig up roots of invasive species from around the statue of Saint Michael.

Patrick said that, when the work is completed, visiting the preserve will give people "an opportunity to see what a wonderful plan with native species can do."

Working on the whole project, starting with land acquisition, has been a good experience, Patrick said. "This was such a successful project for the sisters. It was a wonderful partnership. There was lots of trust."

This is the chapel on the grounds of the Stella Niagara Preserve.


When the grounds of the Preserve are finished, it will be a lovely place to hike. It will also be a lovely place to bring a chair and art supplies and do a plein air (outdoor) painting. I am looking forward to both hiking and painting. Last Thursday, however, my focus was totally on painting. Our theme was the plentiful gifts of the autumnal harvest. I went to Stella Niagara, having no idea of what I would paint. All I knew was that I wanted to incorporate a pumpkin into my painting. So I did just that, as you can see from the above painting. It is watercolor, done in warm autumnal colors.

Discussion question: Are there any parks or nature preserves in your community that you like to visit? What do you you enjoy most about them?




1 comment:

Arlee Bird said...

This looks and sounds like a lovely place. There are certainly some parks and nature preserves in my area, but I haven't gone to any of them. From what I've heard they are not always safe due to gang presence, but I can't say for sure if that is true. Come to think of it there is a wetlands preserve down near the beach not too far from my house. It's basically a board walk around a swampy area where you can see a lot of bird life. You never lose sight of the main highway though so it's not much of a getaway.

Arlee Bird
Tossing It Out

Super sized garden: #WordlessWednesday

seen in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario