By Jeff Tome
Turtles basking on a log slipped off into the green water as we paused to watch them. The area was so green that it practically glowed. Large ferns mixed with flowers and Skunk Cabbage leaves bigger than your head made the forest look like some exotic swamp. Large patches of Blue Vervain, a purple flower, towered over our heads and was covered with butterflies. If a Tyrannosaurus Rex had stumbled out of the steaming forest and started chasing us up the trail, it would not have been a total surprise.
This stunning area of natural beauty was found right near the heart of Jamestown. The new bike trail that starts near McCrea Point wanders right along the outlet to Chautauqua Lake. Painted Turtles and families of Wood Ducks lined logs on the long ditches. Kingbirds and Cedar Waxwings perched on dead trees and dashed out to grab insects on the wing from overhead.
On a Tuesday morning, there were plenty of other people using the trail. A family with a Golden Retriever walked from the picnic pavilion at Chadakoin Park. Two fishermen biked slowly past with coolers strapped to the back of their bikes. A pair of teachers rode past on bikes, enjoying their summer vacation. One of the great parts of a bike trail is that users pass each other quickly, then it feels like you are alone outside again.
Chautauqua Lake is an amazing place, but unless you have a boat (and I don’t) there aren’t many places where you can enjoy the lake and the plants and animals that live next to it. This short path cruises by forests, swamps, fields and the lake itself. It’s like biking through a highlights reel of all that makes the lake and its surroundings amazing.
In part, the lake is amazing because of the land around it. The wild creeks, marshes and swamps filter and clean the water before it gets to the lake. This makes the lake a little bit cleaner. These wild spots, like the ones along the bike trail, also provide incredible scenery to pass through.
A mile goes fast on a bike, but it’s hard not to stop and watch the butterflies, birds and turtles as you go past. After a couple of minutes, it is easy to forget that you started the trail in the city. Traffic sounds fade away and are replaced by bird, buzzing cicadas and the startled yelps of Wood Ducks as they realize they have been seen and take off for another part of the swamp.
Jeff Tome is a Senior Naturalist and Exhibits Coordinator at the Audubon Community Nature Center, a former CWC board director and a longtime CWC volunteer.
The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local not-for-profit organization dedicated to preserving and enhancing the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. For more information, call 716-664-2166 or visit www.chautauquawatershed.org or www.facebook.com/chautauquawatershed.