The thawing of Fall Brook Gorge reveals stratified history

While many students have ventured to Letchworth State Park for the views, hiking or other activities, few are aware of the National Natural Landmark just a few miles down the road: Fall Brook Gorge, which is comparable in its beauty and natural structures. While Letchworth is open to the public, Fall Brook is private – an area of conservation that will hopefully remain open space forever.

According to professor of geological sciences Jeffrey Over, the Chanler family has owned Fall Brook since the 1800s. It has signs warning against trespassing; however, the Chanler family grants access to the property on occasion for various geography/geology classes classes who study and observe the land.

Since 1970, the site has been a National Natural Landmark. In addition, Fall Brook is a part of the Genesee Valley Conservancy, which has permission to access the site and holds organized walks each year to raise money while allowing others to view the property.

According to its website, the Genesee Valley Conservancy has a conservation easement on the property, meaning the owner agrees to refrain from certain activities such as building on the land. It is preserved for the future, but the owner can still enjoy it as long as he or she follows the rules of the easement. The Conservancy has easements on other areas in Western New York, such as the Railroad Bed Trail and the Indian Fort Nature Preserve.

Inside the property, there is a waterfall and a stream. Cattle can be often found on the property as well as an orchard, which still produces fruit.

“The waterfall represents the headland erosion of a hanging valley that developed after the glaciers that carved out the N-S valley receded, now holding the Genesee River,” Over said.

This carving occurred about 15,000 years ago. Over said that the waterfall is made of limestone, shale and fossil-bearing strata.

The Geneseo shale which makes up part of the waterfall is named after Geneseo and is, “very organic rich and has been drilled for natural gas in Pennsylvania,” Over said. “These rocks were deposited when this region was covered by a shallow tropical sea … approximately 385 million years ago.”

As opposed to the shale in Pennsylvania, which has been drilled, this land will be protected for hundreds of years to come, as the easements are in place regardless of whether or not the land is sold. New owners will have to abide by the rules in the easement.