Celebrating 30 Years of Local Conservation

By John Jablonski III, CWC Executive Director & Becky Nystrom, CWC President

Thirty years ago, a small group of lake lovers, naturalists, fishermen and other conservationists came together out of a profound concern for the ecological and economic health and future of Chautauqua Lake and other area waterways.

This small group (which included both of us) knew that a new voice was urgently needed in the midst of the ongoing degradation of Chautauqua Lake’s natural shoreline habitats and increasing evidence of harmful land use practices such as lakeshore development without erosion controls, filling of tributary floodplains, nutrient loading that fueled excessive aquatic plant growth and harmful land management practices higher in the watershed.

Our group perceived that government leadership at that time was lacking in addressing these larger issues. The focus of local leaders was only on “weed” control, and a more holistic, proactive and preventive approach was clearly needed. Aquatic plant management in Chautauqua Lake regrettably ignored the root causes of the lake’s excessive plant growth problems and only focused on in-lake harvesting and herbicides as management options. Our group had witnessed troubling changes taking place on and within the lake and recognized disturbing and undesirable trends for water quality, fisheries and the ecological health of the lake and its wildlife and human users. 

As a result, we set out to start an organization that would seek to: 1) protect our area’s most threatened sensitive and ecologically valuable watershed forests, stream banks and shoreland habitats, 2) conserve the most important fish and wildlife habitats county-wide, 3) change the careless and improper land use practices that were filling our streams and lakes with sediments, nutrients and other pollution, using a more watershed-wide paradigm, and 4) help people connect to the gifts of nature in the Chautauqua region. And in 1990, we formed the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy to accomplish these goals.

In the years since, CWC has tirelessly and passionately remained true to our shared vision and mission of preserving, healing and protecting the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of our region. CWC has grown from a handful of concerned citizens to an organization with over 1,000 members and supporters. In collaboration with New York State and other partners, we have (so far!) conserved over 1,126 acres of wooded wetlands, streambanks, shorelands and other natural areas to help absorb and filter rainfall and stormwater and help reduce downstream nutrient loading and sedimentation to our streams and lakes. More than 470 acres of wetlands, two miles of ecologically valuable Chautauqua Lake and Outlet shoreline and three-quarters of a mile of shoreline on the Cassadaga Lakes have been protected! We have established and maintain 30+ nature preserves, providing peaceful refuges for people to spend time in the great outdoors, reconnect with nature and absorb the many physical and mental benefits that go along with it. CWC has also facilitated a NYS investment of $8.7 million in land conservation and outdoor recreation facilities in Chautauqua County! We’ve also provided numerous watershed education presentations and publications as well as technical assistance to local municipalities, homeowner associations, businesses and residents.

All of these accomplishments, however, could not have been achieved without help, and we are enormously grateful to our founders, board directors, volunteers, donors and friends who have supported and promoted our mission over these many years!

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