Our community is in the midst of a historic event right now; the COVID-19 pandemic has altered life significantly. However, you can still explore the outdoors via the parks and trails in the town of Lockport while following CDC guidelines. The town has three parks as well as the Erie Canalway Trail for hiking.

Jim Boles started off the project on the Erie Canal towpath and together he and I will continue north to Slayton Settlement Road to a quietly magical forest with a compelling history. 

Since we cannot meet, we have been emailing for the past couple weeks about the town parks and walkable trails. We decided to combine our resources to highlight these unique town features.

Explains Jim: The demand is up for good outdoor spaces where you can get out of the socially isolated house and walk while still maintaining social distance guidelines. As we walk the parks, people are asking questions about their history. The story of the parks and trails interested both Jean and I and we started to share information. Historian Linn will be providing the historical background and research skills as she has access to the town’s historical archives. Our hiking group — my wife, Paige, Moo-Moo the history hound and I — will be doing the on the ground research, reporting back to Jean with our questions, as we explore the parks and trails of the Town of Lockport.

• • •

The town’s very first park, the John B. Austin Nature Trail on Slayton Settlement Road, was formed in 2001. This property has a lot of history. It was used as a quarry in both the 19th and 20th centuries and had been suggested for use as a park 72 years prior to it becoming a town park.

A group of investors, primarily from Medina, used the property as a quarry in 1882. It was later sold as farmland to Michael Lynch, a Canadian immigrant with Irish ancestry. Locals growing up in the area referred to the land as “Mike Lynch’s woods.” 

After Lynch’s death, his family proposed making the land into a county park in 1929. They boasted of its native woodlands and spring-fed brook with waterfall. That project never came to fruition and a few years later Lockport Town Justice George Gallagher purchased the property. Gallagher lived nearby on the former Pearson farm (now Maverick Farm Organics) on Slayton Settlement. 

On May 6, 1955, Gallagher sold the property to the town for use as a quarry to develop roads. The stone helped build Day Road south from Chestnut Ridge to Lincoln Avenue. It was not an ideal stone for road-building so quarrying endeavors were short-lived. 

In the late 1960s through 1970s, town employee Ronnie Weaver tended to the site with the help of a Boy Scout troop.

In 2000, longtime Town Justice John B. Austin was appointed Town Supervisor. Austin was an avid outdoorsman and former biology teacher. When he discovered the town owned about 96 acres full of trails, he advocated for creating the town’s first park. 

To prepare the property, Dick Gallagher, son of George Gallagher, used his chainsaw to further clear pathways. Karl Kowalski, a local farmer who lives on the former Pearson-Gallagher farm, blazed out trails with his tractor. Inmates from the local jail were also deployed to assist with the work. 

The park opened in the spring of 2001; it was formally dedicated as the Town of Lockport Nature Trail on Aug. 29, 2001. 

John Austin stepped down as supervisor at the end of 2005. Due to his leadership in creating this park, as well as being instrumental in the creation of Day Road Park, the nature trail was renamed in honor of him. It was dedicated as the John B. Austin Nature Trail on June 14, 2008.

The tree pictured here has a circumference, the distance around the trunk, of more than 16 feet. Using a formula provided by the International Society of Arboriculture this tree would have an age well over 200 years. There are other gnarly oak trees on the paths, and many other large trees that try to find purchase on the rocky hillsides, that we leave to the readers to find.

Follow the trail south, and you'll see, just down the trail from the large oak, a waterfall.

The park has piles of rocks, large and small, that were left over from the quarrying operations. They now form a beautiful moss covered landscape, with the vegetation working hard to find soil among the rocks, creating some unique twisted roots and trees.

There are still several mysteries to this nature trail. In the southwest section of the park, there is a long, substantial stone wall. The oldest residents of the area say it has always been there and cannot be traced to an earlier building or farm. It is very well constructed and seems to enclose nothing. Guesses by locals are that it might be a boundary fence or military-related but they do not know.

Another mystery is the source of the healthy stream that flows over the waterfall and through the park. Residents are unsure but many think it flows from under the canal. Recent research indicates it may be a spring-fed stream.

The park is well-kept by the town but still wild enough to get back into nature with streams, marshes and rivulets. Many species of birds, snakes, squirrels, frogs, chipmunks and deer roam the woods, with reported foxes and coyotes deeper in the forest.

The Nature Trail, located at 6674 Slayton Settlement Road, is open from sunrise to sunset. There is a large parking lot at the entrance. The trails loop around and connect to each other; you can walk the trails for several hours. The paths are well-groomed and most are an easy hike for seniors and young children alike. Remember to follow CDC guidelines and practice social distancing of at least 6 feet if there are others on the trails. There is room to step off to the side of the paths if needed. 

Many thanks to Dick Gallagher and Jeff Hahn for sharing their memories and recollections.

Jim Boles is a Lockport native with a keen interest in local history and cultural tourism. Contact him at jamesboles47@gmail.com. Jean Linn is Lockport's town historian, as well as archivist and librarian at Niagara County Community College. You can reach her at jlinn@elockport.com or 716-438-2159.  

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