As we close out one year and look forward to another, let’s look back at 2023 and the accomplishments of the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy.
In 2023, we learned from days of suffering from wildfire smoke that we here in western New York can’t hide from the deleterious impacts of climate change. We saw a Chautauqua Lake that didn’t solidly freeze over for ice fishing, and winter conditions for cross country skiing and snowmobiling only lasted a few days. It’s clear that our climate is changing and now affecting not just people in other places but us here too!
Also in 2023, the Conservancy transitioned from its leader of 33 years to Whitney Gleason, our new executive director. With the help of multiple donors and grantors, the Conservancy acquired for conservation an additional 190 acres of land at seven sites across the county. That is the size equivalent of 144 football fields! We completed our Fish Hawks and Steelhead Habitat Conservation Campaign, resulting in the conservation of 14 acres of picturesque forest at the mouth of Chautauqua Creek on Lake Erie as the McCray-Peckinpaugh Nature Preserve, 31 acres of floodplain and successional forest on Goose Creek as the Southern Tier Brewing Company Preserve, and 25 acres as The Pry Wetlands, which feed water to the Vukote Canal at Chautauqua Lake. In addition, Wilson Huhn donated 50 acres of beautiful forest on Cheney Creek to establish the Mary and Tom Huhn Nature Park. Susan Abram and Alan Kowlowitz donated 34 acres of meadows and forest in Pomfret to establish the Abram Nature Preserve. With the help of Barbara Swift Suckow and her son Kyle, and others, we were able to acquire 22 acres of floodplain and wetlands to establish a new preserve called Kyle’s Landing – at Cassadaga Creek. This preserve protects habitats adjacent to a popular paddle craft launch at Red Bird Corners, only a half-mile south of our 150-acre Cassadaga Creek Wetland Preserve. We also conserved 14 acres of important waterfowl habitat as wetlands on the northwest end of Bear Lake. Conservancy staff and volunteers have been busy marking the boundaries on all of these new sites. Trail and parking improvements will be made on the sites that are suited for hiking and will be opened for public use in 2024.
Carol Markham, our conservationist, provided LakeScapes landscaping consultations to over 200 landowners desiring to enhance their lakefront and watershed properties for wildlife habitat and/or water quality protection. Engaging landowners to enhance their privately-owned lands continues to be a priority conservation activity.
Our team greatly expanded its activities to assist local governments and the county to evaluate stormwater and flooding problems and address degraded conditions in local waterways. We have engaged crews to clear log jams and large trees causing erosion problems on the Chadakoin River from downtown Jamestown to Falconer, addressed four sites in Falconer, sites on Conewango Creek in the (Town of) Poland, and additional sites on our county’s waterways. These projects help manage severe erosion, reduce flooding and property damage, and make these waterways more suitable for recreation.
Lastly, Twan Leenders, our director of conservation, again led citizen-science aquatic invasive species identification efforts. Sandra Emke served as our seasonal aquatic invasive species coordinator this summer undertaking efforts to identify and remove Eurasian Water Chestnut from Chautauqua Lake and its outlet. We also facilitated help from the Chautauqua Lake Association, Chautauqua Lake & Watershed Management Alliance, and the Towns of Chautauqua and North Harmony to deliver a pilot project to remove invasive Starry Stonewort from the lake.
The conservation activities of this organization give us a way to conserve lands and grow forests to fight climate change, save important wildlife habitat, and protect water quality right here in Chautauqua County! You can learn more and support these efforts at www.chautauquawatershed.org.
The staff and board of the Conservancy thank all of you who supported our activities and volunteered over 2023! We wish you and your family a happy new year!
Article by John Jablonski III, Special Projects Coordinator
Photo by Twan Leenders, Director of Conservation