Zoar Valley

Central & Western: Priority Conservation Landscape

Long ago, Cattaraugus Creek carved the Zoar Valley gorge through uplifting shale formations. Known to some as the "Letchworth of Lake Erie," the steep-walled valley features hemlock-hardwood forests, coldwater streams, fens and towering cliffs that reach as high as 400 feet from the gorge floor.

Why We Work Here

The remote and rugged character of the valley provides limited access for people. It is no wonder, then, that more than 600 acres of old-growth forest remains intact. The largest trees in the Northeast can be found here, including a 128-foot basswood that is considered among one of the tallest of its species in the entire world.

Due to its relatively undisturbed state and unique array of species, the Zoar Valley has been named the top conservation priority among Lake Erie’s gorges.

  • Forest fragmentation due to development
  • Poor timber harvesting practices which threaten unique riparian communities and water quality
Conservation Strategy
  • Acquire lands and waters to protect sensitive habitats and prevent fragmentation of a 29,000-acre block of native forests
  • Educate and conduct outreach to improve forest practices 
Conservation Actions

In 2003, The Nature Conservancy opened a new office in western New York. Located in the Village of Cattaraugus, this field office serves the Zoar Valley and Allegany Forest regions.

Since opening this office, The Nature Conservancy has protected over 700 additional acres of important Zoar Valley forestland and gorge frontage – nearly four miles of frontage of Zoar Valley gorge wall.

The Central and Western New York Chapter and the New York State Natural Heritage Program conducted a comprehensive inventory of all of New York’s most intact Lake Erie gorges. This inventory is guiding our efforts to protect the Zoar Valley.

The Nature Conservancy recently completed an upgrade of its visitor access amenities at Zoar Valley, including a new kiosk, brochure and parking lot.


NYS Department of Environmental Conservation, Margaret L. Wendt Foundation, Oishei Foundation, Community Foundation for Greater Buffalo, NYS Great Lakes Protection Fund, Hahn Family Foundation, Western NY Land Conservancy, Niagara Frontier Botanical Society, Odin-Berkana Foundation, Buffalo Museum of Science and NYS Natural Heritage Program.


Red-Shouldered Hawk

Nesting red-shouldered hawks and American bald eagles are frequently spotted soaring in and around the canyons of Zoar Valley.


Nineteen tree species are common in Zoar Valley, including tulip, American sycamore, Northern red oak, bitternut hickory, black walnut, sugar maple, cucumber magnolia and green ash.


Two American elm specimens still thrive on one terrace. Their isolation in the canyon helped them avoid the devastation of Dutch Elm disease.


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