Imagine a suburban, backyard wilderness where 200 year-old trees still stand. That’s exactly what you’ll find at the 300 acre Reinstein Nature Preserve. It meanders right through the heart of a bustling suburb. The preserve has been limited to small groups led by a nature guide. But there’s a new plan to give unrestricted access. Some environmentalists worry that would ruin the preserve. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Joyce Kryszak takes us to the woods – and to the debate:
Imagine a suburban, backyard wilderness where 200 year-old trees still stand.
That’s exactly what you’ll find at the 300 acre Reinstein Nature preserve.
It meanders right through the heart of a bustling suburb. The preserve has been limited
to small groups led by a nature guide. But there’s a new plan to give unrestricted access.
Some environmentalists worry that would ruin the preserve. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Joyce Kryszak takes us to the woods – and to the debate:
A Great Blue Heron perches lazily in the distance above an expanse of pink water lilies.
At first Bob Reinstein doesn’t see the bird.
“I should’ve brought my field glasses.”
But then its giant wings spread wide, laboring to clear the water in this serene Monet-like setting.
“The lilies were a gift from two different environmental organizations…”
The man and the majestic heron both seem oblivious to the rush of cars and people just
beyond the edge of the woods. This is the Reinstein Nature Preserve. It’s framed on all sides
by a sprawling suburb of houses and shopping plazas in Western New York. Like his parents before
him, Bob Reinstein says he’s risked his life for nearly sixty years defending this scene; he guards it against trespassers – and sometimes trespassers with guns.
“Their lives were threatened several times, in fact, mine was also. I was unarmed at the time,
but he had pointed his shotgun at me and threatened to shoot. Realizing it was pointing at my face,
I stopped following him.”
But Reinstein never stopped trying to protect the nature preserve his father created half a century ago.
By the time he died in 1984, the elder Reinstein had dug nine ponds, planted thousands of trees,
rare ferns and flowers to compliment the ancient scene. The younger Reinstein says it’s like a
“Where else can schoolchildren walk back through history a hundred and fifty years and see
samples of what existed then, that are still here today?”
Reinstein says his father bequeathed the preserve to the state to keep it from being trampled.
He stipulated that it must stay forever wild. People could visit, but only for educational
purposes. And only with a trained nature guide. That could all be changing. A proposal by the
State Department of Environmental Conservation would give the public unrestricted access.
Jane Wiercioch lives in the nearby suburb and loves visiting her backyard wilderness. But today
Weirchioch is handing out petitions here. She hopes to stop the DEC from opening the preserve. She
says it would leave the woods vulnerable.
“I know I came in here the other day for a walk around that lily loop with my great granddaughters
and, of course, they were chasing frogs. So, I’m with them, I’m yelling at them, ‘don’t do anything.’ But can you imagine having people just coming in here and doing what they want?”
State conservation officials say bringing in more people is the whole point. Meaghan Boice-Green
is a spokesperson for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. She says all
other department-run properties are open to the public. Boice-Green says unrestricted access would be good for both the public and for the agency.
“We’re not talking about property that hasn’t touched by the hand of man, and in order for us
to obtain the funding to do the habitat maintenance that’s going to be necessary to maintain
this manmade habitat, we have to provide some public access. We’re not going to be able to
access funds to support a property that the public isn’t allowed to access.”
But the state has never had any trouble finding money to maintain the preserve before.
And Boice-Green couldn’t offer specifics about any extra funding.
Terry Boyle has volunteered as a guide at the preserve for eight years. But he agrees the
preserve should be unrestricted. Boyle says visitors can’t have a truly natural experience
if someone’s watching their every move.
“A lot of those people who do want to come in, they want to take photographs, they want to sit
down and reflect for a little bit about what they’re looking at, and that kind of stuff. So,
they can’t go at their own leisurely pace with tour guides, because we have to push them through a little bit
But the head of a local environmental group sees it differently. Larry Watson says if the
preserve is opened, there won’t be anything left to look at anyway. He believes the state is
just tired of policing the woods. But Watson says it was Dr. Reinstein’s wish that the
preserve be kept wild. And he should know. As a young boy sixty years ago, Watson spent many
long hours in the woods, helping Reinstein plant the saplings that now tower overhead.
“If they turn this into what they want to, it will be nothing more than a state park.
And we’d rather see it kept as an individual showpiece and a place New York state can be quite
proud of and show the rest of the country what can be done in the way of environmental
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation says it hasn’t made a final
decision. It will consider the wishes of those who want access to the preserve to remain
restricted. But many people are also demanding it be opened. Ultimately, the state says
it will likely let people come to the preserve whenever they want – and trust them
to be good caretakers.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Joyce Kryszak.