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Nature Preserves & You

Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a nationally accredited land trust by the Land Trust Accreditation Commission, which is a mark of distinction showing that we meet the highest standards for land conservation. A crucial part of staying in good standing as a land trust is dutiful stewardship of our 35 (and growing) nature preserves. A nature preserve, also known as a wildlife refuge, wildlife sanctuary, biosphere reserve, or nature conservation area, is a protected area of great importance for plants, animals, and the health and quality of our water systems. Nature preserves exist to serve as sanctuaries where biodiversity can thrive undisturbed. Preserves are strictly protected and have a very specific set of rules and regulations – more so than nature parks.


Failing to follow our preserve rules and regulations in natural areas can have significant consequences, both for the environment and for people. All our nature preserves are open to the public from sunrise to sunset, but there is a thorough list of rules that we ask visitors to follow. Please remember that we really do want you to go out and enjoy all our hiking trails, beautiful scenery, and the ever-present birds that are now chirping all over the county. What we do not want you to do, though, is pretty straightforward.


Our trails, although currently muddy, are there for your enjoyment. However, no ATVs or motorized vehicles are ever allowed on our preserves. We are working to help native plants and animals thrive in an undisturbed environment. Please also stay on the trails and never cut down any trees, remove brush, or disturb vegetation in any way – no matter the size or status. Creating survivalist huts or using a nature preserve as your personal camping spot is also prohibited.


Dogs are some of the best animals on the planet, according to yours truly. I take my husky out to preserves almost weekly. While dogs are welcome on our preserves, they must always be kept on a leash. Not only is it a rule of nature preserves around the world, but a leashed dog is also a safe dog. Not everyone feels safe around dogs, so even if you have the nicest dog on the planet, like I do, some people still do not want to be confronted with a dog in any way. Should your dog need to poop while on your walk, please take a moment to pick it up and also take your “doggy bag” home for proper disposal. Do not leave it on the trail for someone else to step in or clean up.


Smoking is also prohibited on all our nature preserves. We pride ourselves on the excellent air quality and beautiful surroundings that our preserves provide for people. Cigarette butts contain carcinogens and are composed of thousands of cellulose acetate fibers – which is a microplastic – that kill plants, insects, and animals. Did you know that cigarette butts are statistically the most littered item on the planet? They are toxic, and they can take up to 10 years to decompose.


There are no deer stands allowed on any of our preserves. No hunting cameras, no camo huts, no makeshift stands, or any hunting equipment of any kind. As property owners, it would never be normal practice to waltz onto someone else’s property and erect a permanent deer stand. There is no difference between you doing that to your neighbor versus setting up a deer stand on one of our preserves. Hunting in specific preserves with prior authorization can serve as a management tool to improve forest health where game populations have exceeded the forest’s capacity, so we are not against all hunting. What we are against is erecting structures on property that is not yours. If you have a deer stand on any of our properties, you must remove it immediately, or we will confiscate it. Hunting is allowed on a few of our preserves, however, but only with prior written permission from our organization.  


Remember, respecting boundaries ensures the preservation of our natural spaces and minimizes conflicts. Let’s all be responsible stewards of the environment, so that it can be there for everyone, as well as our future generations. And while you’re out enjoying our preserves, please also remember to sign in at our kiosk, scan the QR code, and let us know if there is anything that needs attention on our trials.

Article and photo by Land Specialist Bethany O'Hagan


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