Donald F. Miller Park, which the Nor-Ton Red Jacket Club, Inc. began
using in 1986, was originally owned by Albert C. Spann. Mr. Spann sold
the property to Francis L Potter for the reported sum of $1.00 in 1899.
The land was then "appropriated" from Mrs. Spann by the State of New
York "for the Use of Improved Canals". The first tract of land, 7,667
acres, was appropriated in April 1907, the second 4.48 acres was
appropriated in December 1907, and the third and final 15.946 acres was
appropriated in July 1911.
Appropriation papers were served to Mrs. Potter's son, Meredith. The appropriations were made pursuant to Chapter 147, of the State of New York Laws of 1903. No money is recorded as changing hands during the appropriations.
The Girl Scouts obtained an annually renewable permit for use of the canal lands. The property became known as Shady Hollow Girl Scout Camp, established in 1948.
The camp consists of 24.32 wooded acres (3.773 acres of appropriated land was used for the actual canal). It is bounded by the Erie Canal to the southeast, Sweeney Street towards the west and private property on the north.
|The original cabin was built between 1948 and 1949 and had approximately 1,170 square feet of space. The inside was finished with knotty pine tongue and groove paneling. There was a masonry fireplace with a flagstone surface. Also constructed at that time were five pavilions located throughout the camp, four of which are still being used today.|
camp has been used for many activities. The Girl Scout records we have
found were only dated from 1982 - 1985. During that time the camp was
used for day camp with about 1,130 participants from 101 units. It was
also used for neighborhood meetings, after-school meetings and
community meetings in which 3,280 Gil Scouts participated. The Girl
Scouts maintained the property as a fully functional camp, but decided
to discontinue use of the camp in 1985 because of the high cost of
insurance and operational expenses. The Nor-Ton Red Jacket Club, Inc.
found out that the camp was being closed by the Girl Scouts in an
article in the Tonawanda News in 1985.
Donald F. Miller, the Secretary of the Nor-Ton Red Jacket Club, Inc., inquired about the closing of the Girl Scout Camp. He started the procedure to acquire the camp in 1985. Mr. Miller died shortly thereafter. To honor Mr. Miller's service to the Boy Scouts and the Nor-Ton Red Jacket Club, Inc., it was decided that if the organization acquired the camp, it should be named after Mr. Miller.
The Nor-Ton Red Jacket Club was incorporated on October 4, 1984 in order to provide low cost transportation to members of Boy Scout Troop 184, as well as other Scouting and youth groups. Boy Scout Troop 184 was located at 453 Old Falls Boulevard, North Tonawanda, inside St. Paul Lutheran Church & School. The name of the club was chosen because of the location of Troop 184, in North Tonawanda, and because most of the leaders of Troop 184 wore red jackets as part of their uniforms. The corporation owned two school busses. Adult members of Troop 184 were trained to become the mechanics, and driers of the busses.
The Nor-Ton Red Jacket Club, Inc. did not did acquire the camp by New York State permit in April 1986 (DOT Permit Number: 86-5-5-30). From 1986 until the fire in 1989, many scouting groups used the cabin, along with the pavilions and grounds. The park was also used for other community functions such as church gatherings, Alcohol Anonymous functions, Crime Watch Group meetings, and other activities sponsored by Western New York Schools.
The corporation was amended in 1988 to offer low cost camping opportunities at Donald F. Miller Park. The corporation was again amended in 1996 in order to qualify as a Federal Internal Revenue Service Publicly Supported 501 (c) 3 organization. The main cabin at Miller Park was destroyed by a suspected arson fire on December 14, 1989 and was investigated by the North Tonawanda Police Department. This was a serious setback for the Nor-Ton Red Jacket Club, Inc.
Construction of the new cabin was completed in 1993, through the efforts of dozens of volunteers and a grant issued by New York State. This cabin is now known as Uncle John's Cabin, named after next-door neighbor John Kopczynski. Mr. Kopczynski was owner of St. Mary's Manufacturing and Ascension Sheet Metal. He was former Mayor of the City of North Tonawanda, and a longtime financial supporter of Donald F. Miller Park. The reconstruction of the cabin restored a valuable resource to the camp, which now serves nearly 4,500 youth per year for day camping, overnight camping and meeting activities. These youth come from a wide variety of organizations including scout, school, church, and other youth organizations.
Various improvements were made to the camp between 1993 and 1997 including the construction of a new parking lot, new shelter roofs, nature trails, a cross over bridge and an ax yard. It was during this time that the butterfly habitat and flower gardens were established. Several youth programs were developed including snowshoeing, canoeing, and orienteering. In 1998 Mr. Foley, who lived at the corner of Sweeney and East Robinson, donated a one-car garage. It was lifted off its foundation and delivered to Donald F. Miller Park by the owner.
In 1999 Bush Athletic Field and the Council Ring were completed. Additional programs in fishing and Project Adventure games were added in 1999 and 2000. In January of 2000 a twenty year lease, with two ten-year extensions, was signed with the New York State Canal Corporation for use of the 24.32 acres of Donald F. Miller Park.
Between 1999 and 2001 the Thelma and Walter Balling Cabin was constructed. A large portion of the funds for the new cabin were made available by a donation from the estate of Thelma and Walter Balling, through the Kiwanis Club of the Tonawanda's. Construction of this cabin made it possible for the Boys and Girls Club to move Camp Spirit Day Camp into Miller Park for the summer months.
While at the park, the users can see wildlife such as deer, wild turkey, woodchucks, squirrels, rabbits, skunks, raccoons, ducks, and many types of birds and other animals. A wide variety of plant life abounds, including a large population of cottonwood trees. The 1,500 feet of canal shoreline provides and excellent view of the canal as well as fishing and canoeing opportunities. The whole park is a slice of wilderness in a city setting. The park has been loved and cared for over the years by many dedicated workers who are proud to save they are part of an all-volunteer organization.