Thursday, July 3, 2014

Exploring the Niagara Frontier

I was recently approached by my friend about writing a column for East Niagara Post. I couldn’t pass up the chance as I enjoy writing, something made evident by my 9 years of piecing together an opinion column for the Greater Niagara Newspapers.

Although public policy is a constant subject of my GNN columns, it’s not one of my passions. It’s one of my frustrations and something that I feel obligated to educate the masses about.

When it came to the invitation, I asked if I could pursue one of my passions — the outdoors — and educate the masses about that. I’ve always wanted to write a nature and science column and I’ve always felt that the Niagara County could use one. The Buffalo News’ Sunday science page — with its cornerstone contributor, Gerry Rising — is one of its most popular installments (and my favorite). There’s no reason why that sort of educational success couldn’t translate to Niagara County media as well.

That’s where this column came from. Where is the column going?

“Exploring the Niagara Frontier” will do just what the name says — explore the Niagara Frontier. Every week we will look at some natural aspect of the region — like a specific animal or plant or perhaps an interesting geological feature — or maybe we’ll check out one of our numerous public assets, like Royalton Ravine Park or the Lockport Nature Trail.

The focus will be on telling stories about our precious natural world and giving folks a background on some of the living creatures that we either, one, take for granted or, two, let slip undetected in our backyards.

Like East Niagara Post, we will train our attention on Eastern Niagara County. Too often, the wonders of this area take a back seat to the magnificent natural beauty of the Niagara River, Niagara Falls, and the Gorge. But, as you will discover (that is, if you don’t already know it), we’re pretty darn blessed with our own special brand of natural beauty on this side of the county — there are many reasons why people who live in Buffalo or the north towns commonly refer to Eastern Niagara County as “God’s Country.”

You may be asking yourself, what is guy who owns a plastics factory doing writing about nature?

It may seem counterintuitive at first since plastics have a bad reputation, some of it deserved, in environmental circles.

The thing is, we don’t produce disposable goods at the plant. We pride ourselves on manufacturing durable goods, items made to last a lifetime (kayaks, swimming pool ladders, docks, and more).

You’ll find that I’m not a guy who toes the industry line. For one, I absolutely despise the insanity of bottled water. I still can’t believe U.S. consumers blow their money on a staggering 30 billion of these bottles every year. I also find it jaw-dropping that only 30 percent of them are recycled. Such nonsensical consumerism contributes to the 32 million tons of plastic waste put into landfills annually.

So, I may be a manufacturer, but I’m a manufacturer who understands my and my industry’s roles in the Big Picture.

You’re probably wondering, too, just what is my background in nature?

I’m basically self-taught when it comes to biology and it’s a love affair that’s lasted a lifetime.

As early as the second grade you could find me keeping a field guide to the birds close to me at all times. It went to school. It went out in the field. It probably even went to bed with me.

Growing up on a 280-acre farm which my family worked till I was 10 (a farm that I still live on to this day, although its tillable land is rented out to a local farmer), I roamed field and forest and played in creeks through my childhood and teen years and had an insatiable hunger for learning about everything from the minute to the monstrous.

Then, when most other teenagers may have been shooting hoops or playing ball, my sports were, instead, the outdoor pursuits — hunting and fishing.

A naturalist who hunts? Yes, I am a nature enthusiast, but I am at the same time someone who also selectively harvests his nourishment from the land. It’s a part of Man’s role in the bigger scheme of things; you’re only kidding yourself if you don’t recognize our spot at the top of the food chain.

Growing up, I was lucky enough to have a family who encouraged my love of the outdoors — from parents who stocked my library, took me hunting and fishing, and helped fund my Boy Scout adventures to a loving grandmother who took me on hundreds of Saturday trips to the Alabama Swamps to watch birds.

Had I not gone on to the family business, I’m certain I would have taught biology or earth science at a local school.

That career choice didn’t prevent me, though, from being an educator. During my college years I was the nature director at Camp Dittmer in the Finger Lakes. I was a scout leader for years and a constant focus of mine while on the trail was talking to the boys about the world around us. And, for 16 years at Roy-Hart I spoke to Mrs. Brown’s class about local wildlife, even taking them on nature hikes at Royalton Ravine Park.

So, that’s where the nature bug came from --as well the associated urge to share my knowledge and experiences with you. It’s in my blood.

Be sure to check in every Thursday when we can explore the Niagara Frontier together. In the meantime, get outdoors and enjoy our natural world.

Bob Confer lives in rural Gasport where you can still find him roaming fields and forests and playing in creeks. You can email him at and follow him on twitter @bobconfer.

From the 03 July 2014 East Niagara Post

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