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Re-activating Our County’s Waterways - Incredible Recreational Opportunities Are Opening Up!

It is no surprise that spending a leisurely summer afternoon on Chautauqua Lake, or one of the other county lakes, is a wonderful way to spend some time in the great outdoors. Our lakes have long been a major draw for locals and visitors alike. Swimming, canoeing, tubing, or fishing, it doesn’t really matter – any of these recreational activities are what make the quality of life in our area great. But how many of you have ever ventured out on the county’s major waterways (Cassadaga Creek, Conewango Creek, or the Chadakoin River) for some fun on the water?

For reference, Cassadaga Creek drains Bear Lake and the Cassadaga Lakes and joins the Chadakoin River east of Falconer. The Chadakoin River, of course, is the outflow of Chautauqua Lake. The combined flow of these three lakes continues south until it meets Conewango Creek. The latter waterway enters our county just east of Kennedy and flows south through Frewsburg and into Pennsylvania, where it joins the Allegheny River. Of course, from that point on, our waterways join ever larger rivers (the Ohio River in Pittsburgh and eventually the Mississippi River, south of St. Louis) to eventually reach the Gulf of Mexico.

Historically, Jamestown’s economy relied heavily on this important waterway connection. Lumber harvested in the region fed the local lumber industry and surplus logs were floated downstream in large rafts – sometimes all the way to New Orleans. Clearly these waterways were navigable in those days, but ironically, trees and logs have now clogged much of the system. These days, our landscape is dotted with dead Ash trees that succumbed to the invasive Emerald Ash Borer, and those that grew near rivers or high up on the banks have toppled and ended up in the creek or river below.

A large section of these waterways constitutes the Marden E. Cobb Waterway Trail system, which is a recreational waterway trail that falls under the jurisdiction of the Chautauqua County Parks Commission. Despite this designation, the impact of Emerald Ash Borer has effectively rendered much of the recreational uses on the Marden E. Cobb Waterway Trail unsafe. Through a contract with the Chautauqua County Department of Public Facilities, our staff has been busily mapping the most hazardous obstructions in the county’s waterways. In addition, a crew from Tactical Tree Solutions has been able to clear many of these hazards. Given that there are more than 60 miles of waterway to check and clear, it is probably not a surprise that much more work remains. However, while other sections of the system are still being mapped, approximately 12 miles of lower Conewango Creek has been cleared so far. This section of the waterway system, ranging from the PA boundary to the confluence with Cassadaga Creek, will be available for safe recreation next spring. Additional sections will be opened over time. If you’ve never experienced the beauty and tranquility of a canoe or kayak trip on these gorgeous county waterways, you should plan on a trip sometime next year - it is absolutely gorgeous!

Unlocking the potential of these “blueways” in conjunction with the ongoing activation of the county’s “greenways” – the protected forested corridors that harbor our incredible network of hiking, biking, equestrian, snowmobile, and other recreational trails – makes perfect sense. Just like in our furniture heydays, in a very different way our region’s economy is still driven by our natural resources (woods and rivers). Connecting our greenways and blueways can bring economic opportunity to areas that, until now, were not part of the traditional tourist scene. And for us locals, protecting and connecting our natural areas helps our water quality and scenic beauty. Canoeing to help improve our climate resiliency and ecological and economic sustainability sounds like a fun way to spend a summer afternoon. I hope that many of you join us on the waterways next year!

by Twan Leenders, Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy Director of Conservation


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