Want To Improve Chautauqua Lake? Focus on the Watershed!

Becky Nystrom, President, Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy
Melanie Smith, Chair, Chautauqua-Conewango Consortium, A Waterkeeper Alliance Affiliate

Chautauqua Lake is an old lake, rich in plant diversity and an abundance of living things. The shoreline waters host a well-established diversity of aquatic plants that support multiple natural communities, hold sediments in place, and provide food, oxygen, and critical habitat for countless creatures. All are woven together in an amazing web of interdependency, complexity, and connection. But our lake suffers from a pervasive problem of excessive weeds and unwanted, unsightly, and sometimes harmful and toxic algal blooms.

For many decades Chautauqua Lake has been the receptacle for the by-products of human activities in the watershed. This includes the nutrients in animal waste from farms, human waste, fertilizer, and eroded soils caused by development throughout the watershed. The phosphorus, nitrogen, and other nutrients introduced through these land use practices have contributed to today’s excessive weed and algae growth and harmful algal blooms (HABs). We must think of the nutrients and sediments in Chautauqua Lake not as the “causes” of our lake’s problems, but as the symptoms of a sick watershed. Our lake’s severe algae and plant growth problems result from a distressed system long in the making, and it’s urgent we acknowledge and address the root causes at work.

The bottom line is—we must quickly and effectively change the way we manage the lands in our watershed. According to the Trust for Public Land and American Water Works Association (2004), watersheds should be maintained in at least 60-70% forest and wetlands for clean, non-polluting waters to feed the lake to support improved water quality, wildlife and fisheries habitats, and human health and enjoyment. We must conserve as much of the remaining forest land as possible, protect remaining wetlands, and reforest and restore as much of the watershed as possible. Landscaping of residential and commercial areas must be re-considered, and roadway stormwater systems reconstructed to better absorb precipitation to recharge groundwaters and reduce the severe erosion dumping fresh soil into our waterways every year.

Because New York State declared the lake impaired for phosphorus (based on EPA standards) in 2012, a document titled “Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL)” was issued to provide thresholds for various sources of phosphorus. What is rarely discussed, however, are the costs of the needed environmental actions.

The TMDL states: “When lakes receive excess phosphorus, it “fertilizes” the Lake by feeding the algae.” We must opt for the most cost-effective environmental actions with the greatest capacity to reduce nutrients, preferably both phosphorus and nitrogen, reaching the lake. If an action, such as herbicide treatment, only makes the area look better, and does not address nutrient reduction, then those dollars are wasted. Making the reduction of nutrients the top priority directly cuts into the process that causes the unwanted algal blooms.  

Low-cost actions that can be taken by individuals to reduce nutrients abound; protect and retain our tree canopy, allow dead trees to remain, when safe, to retain their deep root systems, scoop the poop, mulch your grass clipping and leaves, avoid using lawn fertilizer routinely, allow no-mow zones to grow, plant a buffer or rain garden.
Actions taken by local governments and lake management officials should be held to the same nutrient-reduction standard. It is the local governments that can adopt and enforce stormwater runoff laws to keep more sediment and nutrients from reaching the lake. It is the local governments that can help support the mechanical harvesting of plants which removes the plant nutrients from the lake as opposed to treatment with herbicides which releases these back into the water column and sediments where they can contribute to algal blooms.

It’s worth noting that the species targeted by herbicide treatments – Curly-leaf pondweed and Eurasian watermilfoil – are Tier 4 invasives, meaning that, with the extent of their growth, they cannot be eradicated (Western New York Partnership for Invasive Species Management, or WNY PRISM). These species have been well-established for decades and are now providing services to the living lake communities. Herbicide treatments cannot “target” the Tier 4 species without also causing collateral damage to intermingled native species, including native, beneficial pondweeds and coontail. Financing a large-scale killing of native plants, either directly or indirectly, funds the reduction of the natural biodiversity of the region, including the foraging, spawning, and rearing areas of our world class and economically important muskellunge, walleye and bass fisheries.

We call on our local governments and Chautauqua Lake management efforts to hold watershed land conservation and enhancement efforts at a much higher priority. To truly address the root causes of nutrient loading in Chautauqua Lake, a pro-active, preventive approach is urgently needed to reduce the loss of watershed forests and wetlands, protect streams and stream corridors, control stormwater and erosion, and reduce sediment loading into the lake, including effective stormwater erosion control regulations. Every year in which local governments fail to adopt and enforce such laws means more sediment and pollution are reaching the lake and contributing more phosphorus to be released as “internal loading” each summer.

The sources of our lake’s problems emanate from the watershed. Unless we effectively reduce the flow of nutrients and sediments into the lake from our severely damaged watershed, the lake will incrementally get worse and its symptoms more expensive to treat. Protecting the quality of the water for this lake’s ecology, wildlife habitat, outstanding fisheries, Class A drinking water source, and watershed is a high moral obligation, to the benefit of our region’s economic, ecological, and social well-being.

Let’s work together to make sure that the watershed gets the appreciation, funding, energy, new laws, enforcement, and attention necessary to save and restore its forests and wetlands, and to heal its streams and shorelands delivering clean waters to Chautauqua Lake.


CWC Annual Meeting Attendees Learn How Trees & Forests in Protect Water Quality

Nearly 100 persons attended CWC's Annual Meeting on August 11th at the Chautauqua Harbor Hotel! Vince Cotrone, an award-winning Penn State Urban Forester, presented about the essential importance of trees in absorbing rainfall and pollutants in the landscape. Keeping forests intact in your watersheds and maintaining and restoring streamside forest buffers can significantly reduce runoff reducing soil erosion and reducing lake sedimentation. Fertile soil eroded from the watershed fuels abundant aquatic plant growth. He observed that the Chautauqua Mall property is "crying out for trees," recommending CWC and local governments seek infrastructure funding to plant trees on commercial sites and provide incentives for business owners to retrofit such sites with green infrastructure. This will help to intercept the pollutants and stormwater now running off such sites and directly into lake tributaries with no storage or treatment to remove a myriad of pollutants impacting the lake. The handout summarizing information in his presentation can be found at https://rb.gy/3r25zq. CWC will hold one or more follow-up webcasts with him on stormwater management to reduce lake pollution in upcoming months.

During the CWC business meeting, musician and County Legislator Bill Ward of Mayville was elected as to the board and Michael Jabot of Fredonia, Bill Locke of Ellery, Craig Seger of Lakewood, and Deb Trefts of Chautauqua were re-elected to the board, each for three-year terms.

Treasurer Bill Locke reported that CWC’s event revenues were seriously impacted in 2020, but due to receiving a federal PPP loan, CWC was able to keep its staff fully-employed and finish the last fiscal year with only a small deficit. He noted CWC has had a robust rebound in its grants, donations and event sponsorships in 2021 and would finish its fiscal year on September 30th in a strong financial position.

President Becky Nystrom and Executive Director John Jablonski outlined recent notable accomplishments: 112 LakeScaping consultations for lakeshore buffers and landscaping for wildlife and water quality; CWC assisting in the engineering design of the erosion control projects on Ball Creek for which N. Harmony is seeking $200,000 in State WQIP funding and CWC contributing to the preliminary design of a 1,200-foot long constructed wetland above the Save-A-Lot Plaza for which Lakewood is seeking $250,000 in State WQIP funding to construct to trap nutrients and sediments and protect Fairmount Ave and downstream properties from flooding and flood damage.

Mr. Jablonski also reported that CWC has 1,071 acres at 32 sites under its protection across the Chautauqua region and that more than 5,000 persons have signed in at CWC's preserves since March 2020—stating, "your CWC preserves are a great refuge for people as well fish & wildlife.”  He announced CWC is pursuing several land conservation projects, including at sites on Mud Creek, Goose Creek, Chautauqua Creek, Cheney Creek and more. He also announced that CWC is launching the Fish Hawks (osprey and eagles) & Steelhead Habitat Campaign to conserve habitats along Goose Creek feeding Chautauqua Lake and Chautauqua Creek feeding Lake Erie. Those who would like to make a donation in celebration of the CWC mission may donate at www.chautauquawatershed.org. Becky Nystrom thanked all who have generously supported this work over the past year.

The Beauty of a Buffer

By Whitney Gleason, CWC Water Quality Program Manager

The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy and volunteer residents, with financial support from the Chautauqua Lake and Watershed Management Alliance, were able to get out and plant three beautiful demonstration buffer gardens a couple weeks ago. We are so thankful to have been able to partner with Heritage Ministries, Winchester Dock Association, and the Village of Mayville to create these examples of how easy and beautiful protecting our lakes and streams can be. Throughout the planning and planting process we realized that people have a lot of questions about buffers. Today I hope to help answer some of those questions and encourage you all to get out and visit these beautiful gardens to learn more.   

What is a buffer? A buffer is simply a growth of trees, shrubs, or perennials that acts as a filter for runoff. As water falls on a mowed area, it runs off. If you have a buffer growing, that water will hit the taller plants of the buffer which will slow it down, giving it time to soak into the ground where extra nutrients and pollutants can be absorbed by those same plants before the water continues on to our streams and lakes.

Does it matter what typeof plants you have in your buffer? The short answer is no – any buffer is better than no buffer at all. Any buffer will help prevent runoff and erosion and will help filter out extra nutrients and pollutants. That being said, using native plants in your buffer will add a lot of extra benefits! Native plants are built for our area and will be hardier and more resilient. They have stronger and longer root systems that do a better job of catching and filtering runoff and preventing erosion. Native plants also provide food that is needed for the wildlife in our area that only feed on specific foods – such as the beautiful Zebra Swallowtail which only feeds on Pawpaw.   

What if I want to help protect our lakes and streams but don’t have time to plant a garden? The great news is that you don’t have to do any planting at all if you don’t want to! Growing a buffer can be as simple as choosing a strategically located ten-foot-wide area not to mow. At Waldmer Park where the Winchester Dock Association’s buffer garden was planted, the other homeowners along the shore decided to work with CWC to create this type of no-mow buffer along the remaining waterfront of the park. As you can see in the photo above (of the Winchester Dock Association's demonstration buffer garden and Waldmer Park homeowners' no-mow buffer), this can be just as beautiful as a landscaped garden and will provide the same benefits for our waterways. 

Can I help protect our lakes and streams even if I don’t live on the water? Absolutely! Every mowed yard has runoff – whether it’s located on a lake, stream, pond, or not. By planting a buffer or letting a no-mow buffer grow, you will help slow that runoff down so that it can be filtered before making its way into our waterways or the groundwater system. Whether your yard is big or small, lakefront or not, you too can help protect the health of our community by creating a beautiful filter in your yard.    

I hope these answers have been helpful, but if you still have questions or would like personal help creating a buffer on your own property, CWC is here for you! Through our free LakeScapes program, our Conservationist will schedule a time with you to come out to your home or business and work with you to create a buffer that’s beautiful for you and for the health of our waters. Simply email her at carol@chautauquawatershed.org or call our office and leave a message at 716.664.2166. Together we can build a healthy community – one yard at a time!

Take A Virtual Wildflower Walk with Jack & Becky!

Take A Virtual Wildflower Walk With Jack & Becky!

Our annual Mother's Day Wildflower Walk has gone virtual for 2020! Take a tour of our Bentley Nature Preserve with naturalist Jack Gulvin and CWC President and biologist Becky Nystrom and see some of the many spring wildflowers that are blooming this time of year! Then, be sure to visit this beautiful preserve for youself and see all of its beauty in person – minding social distancing protocols, of course! 

Living Lawns or Pesticide Peril?

By Becky Nystrom, CWC President

Springtime is here, and the backyard beckons. Our lawns and landscapes grow more lush, lovely and greener with each new day. But green is not necessarily “green” from an environmental standpoint, especially when it comes to lawns.

While America’s turf collectively covers an area the size of Michigan, most of these mowed and manicured spaces are biologically barren, offering little of value to wildlife. Unless a diversity of wildflowers, native grasses, “weeds,” woody shrubs and hedgerows are allowed to grow there, beneficial bees, wasps, beetles, bugs and spiders find it difficult to complete their life cycles, and in turn, so too do songbirds, frogs, bats and other wild creatures dependent upon them. Native species especially suffer. Nesting, resting, feeding and nursery areas for wild things become fragmented and marginalized, and nature’s rhythms are disturbed and disrupted. And as humans labor intensively to manage, mow and tend their beloved lawns, fumes, noise, fertilizers and pesticides pollute the air, land and water, at great cost to people and nature alike.

Worst of all are the pesticides, which are poisons intentionally designed to impair and kill, and which harm beneficial species in addition to those targeted.  Homeowners apply some hundred million pounds of herbicides, fungicides and insecticides to their lawns and landscapes each year, often in the form of “weed and feed” products, and the trend is on the increase. Heavy application in suburban lawns and gardens far exceeds that for other land areas in the U.S., including agricultural lands. Ironically, lawns most heavily managed with chemicals, such as golf courses, tend to have the most serious pest problems, since the “pesticide treadmill” leads to resistant strains of aggressive, often non-native pests, while decimating beneficial species and natural biological controls. Pesticides can also drift into our homes and contaminate indoor air and surfaces with toxics. And water, that precious resource for all life, is being polluted at unprecedented rates. Studies by the U.S. Geological Survey show that 2,4-D is the number one “weed and feed” herbicide most frequently detected in streams and shallow ground water throughout the country and that 56% of streams contain one or more pesticides at concentrations exceeding federal standards.                               

Of the 30 most commonly used lawn and landscape pesticides identified by the EPA, nearly all have potential for serious impacts on human health, with special risk to infants and children, the elderly and people with compromised immune systems. According to Health Impacts of 30 Commonly Used Lawn Pesticides (www.beyondpesticides.org), 17 are possible or known carcinogens, 11 are associated with birth defects, 19 are linked with reproductive problems, such as reduced fertility and low sperm counts, 24 can cause liver or kidney damage, 14 are neurotoxic, impairing the nervous system, 18 are suspected or known endocrine (hormone) disrupters and 25 are sensitizers and/or irritants associated with asthma, inflammation and

allergic reactions.

While more research is needed, troubling findings are emerging. A National Cancer Institute study reports that household and garden pesticide exposure increases the risk of childhood leukemia nearly sevenfold. Dogs whose owners use 2,4-D lawn products are at higher risk for canine malignant lymphoma and bladder cancers. Studies by the American Cancer Society reveal increased human risk for non-Hodgkins lymphoma in association with pesticides such as mecroporp (MCPP) and glyphosate (the active ingredient in Monsanto’s Roundup®, extensively used on lawns and agricultural lands alike). The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer recently concluded that glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen. Dicamba, 2,4-D, and MCPP (often found together as Trimec®), and glyphosate are known respiratory irritants that can inflame skin and mucous membranes, trigger asthma and cause coughing, nausea, and vomiting. Infants exposed to weed-killers within their first year of life are 4.5 times more likely to develop asthma by the age of five. Many lawn pesticides are estrogen-mimicking endocrine disruptors, and exposure can increase miscarriage and breast cancer risk in women and interfere in reproductive development in males.

Beyond human health, pesticides harm wildlife, including honeybees, butterflies, ants, earthworms, ladybugs, songbirds and other beneficial creatures. They also threaten tiny soil microbes so critical to nutrient recycling, decomposition and the natural fertility of the earth. Additional impacts occur when heavy rains and erosion wash these toxics far downstream, leading to contamination of lakes, rivers and drinking water supplies. Of the 30 pesticides noted earlier, 19 have been detected in groundwater, 20 have the potential to leach into drinking water supplies, 30 are toxic to fish and other aquatic life, 22 are toxic to birds, 29 are toxic to bees, 14 are toxic to mammals and 11 have the potential to disrupt developmental pathways in numerous organisms from frogs to fish and reptiles.

Let’s stop this craziness. There are healthier, more life-sustaining ways to create lovely green landscapes and support wildlife and enhanced environmental quality at the same time. For help creating non-toxic or less-toxic lawns and healthy backyard habitats, contact the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy, Cornell Cooperative Extension or a local organic landscaping services. An abundance of excellent information may also be obtained at the Coalition for Pesticide-Free Lawns at www.beyondpesticides.org (Lawns and Landscapes), www.rodalesorganiclife.com (The Dark Side of Lawns) and National Wildlife Federation’s www.nwf.org (Garden for Wildlife).

A Special Message from CWC

Dear CWC Friends and Supporters,

On behalf of the CWC Board of Directors and Staff, we wish you health and safety during this COVID-19 time of concern and uncertainty as well as peace and resilience in the midst of it all.

During this unprecedented and altered season, we are reminded of what is most important in our lives – the health and well-being of our loved ones and a healthy, sustainable, and safe environment. We are also reminded how very grateful we are for each of you, our members and supporters, and wish to thank you for your dedication to our shared mission of preserving and protecting the water quality, scenic beauty, and ecological health of the lakes, streams, and watersheds of our region. Be assured that while this coronavirus crisis brings new and difficult challenges, CWC resolves to successfully navigate these waters and continue our conservation education, technical assistance, and land conservation work while abiding by the New York State Department of Health and CDC COVID-19 safety protocols to protect our staff, families, and the public.

More than ever, we encourage you to seek what is beautiful and good. Our thousand-plus acres of preserves (http://chautauquawatershed.org/maps/) remain open for you to explore and enjoy (using social distancing, of course!) from sunrise to sunset, and they await your visit. The gifts of nature found in our woodlands, wetlands, meadows, and lakeshores promise refreshment, renewal, and healing for body, mind, and spirit. Walk the trails…take your children fishing…launch your kayak…meander among the wildflowers…and seek the joy and serenity of nature amidst our chaotic and crazy world.

Please let us know if you have questions or concerns or if we can assist you in any way. Because we are conducting our work remotely for the foreseeable future, the best way to reach us is by e-mail to info@chautauquawatershed.org or to a specific staff person using the format of firstname@chautauquawatershed.org (e.g. john@chautauquawatershed.org). You may also call the office at 716-664-2166 and leave a message. We will respond as soon as possible. Please note that, using proper safety and social distancing protocols, and as we are able, we intend to:

  • continue providing technical assistance on landscaping for water quality, stormwater management and habitat enhancement on lands owned by families, businesses, organizations, and the public; 
  • remotely offer conservation staff site evaluations and guidance on healthy lawn care practices, improving yards for capturing and filtering stormwater via buffers, swales, and raingardens, and/or for creating habitat for pollinators and wildlife; 
  • continue to steward and protect our preserves, along with the biodiversity they sustain and the hydrological and ecological gifts they provide;
  • conserve and restore lands with collapsing stream banks and severe erosion to arrest the thousands of tons of soil entering our lakes and fueling excessive plant growth; and
  • continue identifying and conserving woodlands and wetlands which capture, store, filter, and deliver clean waters to our lakes, streams, and drinking waters downstream.

CWC is thankful for your partnership in our work to conserve the landscapes, habitats and waters that make the Chautauqua County a special place in which to live and recreate – a refuge for humans and wildlife alike! With your help, we will continue delivering conservation activities and stewardship of our beautiful preserves for many years to come. Please consider a donation to assist us through these very challenging times, and thank you so much for your support!

With warm regards,

Becky Nystrom, Board President, and John Jablonski III, Executive Director

Lessons from the Lake: Making Sense of the Science

By Rebecca Nystrom, CWC President


If only Chautauqua Lake, an ecological and economic treasure in our midst, could speak. How might we better understand and steward its complex ecosystems upon which so much aquatic life depends, while thoughtfully addressing the ongoing challenges of excessive plant growth, harmful algal blooms, and newly introduced invasive species? The lessons from the lake are knowingly complex and deserve our attention.


We know our lake is an old lake, rich in plant diversity and an abundance of living things. We know its “underwater gardens” are the spawning and nursery beds for bass, muskellunge, bluegill, and sunfish, and the basis for our famous warm water fishery. Nymphs of mayflies, damselflies, and dragonflies crawl among the leaf blades, feasting on tinier insects, while larvae of moths, caddisfly, and weevils forage upon tender buds and feathery foliage. Little things are eaten by bigger things, and all are woven together in an amazing web of interdependency, complexity, and connection. Beyond their importance to the food web, rooted plants release oxygen, stabilize the sediments, and reduce resuspension of silt and nutrients, all significantly improving water quality.

We know the photic zone, where light penetrates the water column, is home not only to obvious lake plants, but also to innumerable tiny green dancers, floaters, and clingers known as phytoplankton, or “algae.” Interestingly, “blue-green algae” aren’t really algae at all, but rather a form of aquatic bacteria known as “cyanobacteria.” In plant-dominated lakes such as Chautauqua, most algae and cyanobacteria are normal residents serving as microscopic oxygenators and food-producers of open waters.


And yet…increased nutrient loading from urbanization of the watershed, erosion, loss of natural shorelines and buffered stream banks, poor lawn-care practices, and warming waters have led to plant-clogged waterways, unhappy humans, and conflicting ideas on solutions. Overgrowths of algae form unsightly and smelly surface scums. More insidiously, harmful algal blooms occur with greater frequency, some producing liver and nervous system toxins dangerous to humans, pets and aquatic creatures alike.


For decades, the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy has strived to conserve and heal our watersheds to enhance the quality of our local waters over the long term. Our work encourages landowners, municipalities, and others to employ lake-friendly landscaping practices, construct erosion control systems, and install vegetated stream buffers, swales, and rain gardens to intercept pollutants before they flow downstream. We have protected over 1,000 acres of wooded wetlands, streambanks, shorelands, and other natural areas which absorb and filter rainfall and stormwater, reducing downstream nutrient loading and sedimentation which otherwise fuel excessive weed and algae growth in our waterways.


Recent attempts to eradicate the long-naturalized Eurasian watermilfoil and curly-leaf pondweed via herbicides in Chautauqua Lake have brought clashing viewpoints and confusing messaging. Alarming evidence of harm to our lake’s south basin ecology has caused deep concern and dismay over the apparent collateral damage from the narrowly-informed “quick-fix” chemical approach. Can’t we do better? What lessons may be learned?


Comprehensive scientific research by Robert L. Johnson of Racine-Johnson Aquatic Biologists (2019 Status of Chautauqua Lake’s Aquatic Macrophyte Community Determined by a Lake Summer/Early Fall Survey and Estimates of the Associated Invertebrate Community) warns that the ecological balance of the lake’s lower south basin may now be at risk. We should listen to the science. We hope that the Region 9 State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will listen.


Mr. Johnson is a highly respected scientist who has studied the aquatic plants of Chautauqua Lake, and the tiny insects that consume them, for eighteen consecutive years. His Racine-Johnson Point Intercept-Rake Drag plant sampling method is recognized as the industry standard. His methodology has been endorsed by the NYS DEC and has provided the invaluable long-term data that has guided plant management decisions by the Chautauqua Lake Association (CLA) since 2002. The entirety of his reports and all conclusions are solely the work of Racine-Johnson. He is an award-winning member, former director, and past president of the Northeast Aquatic Plant Management Society and is widely recognized for his professional contributions towards improved understanding of the ecology of non-native species Eurasian watermilfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum) and Hydrilla. He has served for many years as an independent third-party scientific herbicide-monitoring consultant for the DEC and other lake associations throughout New York State.


Compared to his May 2019 survey and previous years of sampling in the southeast end of Chautauqua Lake, Johnson’s 2019 mid-September survey revealed only barren sediment and unprecedented absence of nearly all aquatic plants. His report warned that these areas were in critical decline, likely linked to the 2,4-D and endothall herbicides applied to the 388 south basin acres in May 2019. Reports by seasoned fishermen using marine sonar concurred that nearly all traditional south basin weed lines were lost and replaced with thick algal blooms persisting into late fall.


An earlier and very limited third-party monitoring report by Princeton-Hydro, contracted by the Chautauqua Lake and Watershed Management Alliance, failed to identify the more widespread, longer-term outcomes documented by Johnson. Its researchers, however, did note that “total biomass…decreased markedly at the treatment sites,” and documented evidence of “potential herbicide drift and resultant reduction in nontarget plant biomass” approximately 7-14 days after treatment. Because both herbicides used are known to damage plants many weeks or months after being introduced into the water column, Princeton-Hydro’s one-month study could not possibly capture those longer-term consequences revealed by the Racine-Johnson work.


And while the Princeton-Hydro report did not address algae, the Fall 2019 Racine-Johnson report expressed concern that cyanobacteria and HABs were visually extensive and worsened as one proceeded south, consistent with herbicide application areas. It warned that the wholesale loss of rooted aquatic plants from the littoral zone could push the shallow south basin of Chautauqua Lake from a stable macrophyte-dominated state toward a turbid and undesirable algal-dominated one, with loss of our critical warm water fishery and increased risk of algal scums, cyanobacteria, and toxic HABs.


So much is at stake. There are enough lessons here to justify significant changes in future management decisions for Chautauqua Lake. Let’s listen to the science.


Rebecca Nystrom, President
Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy
413 North Main Street
Jamestown, New York 14701


Rebecca Nystrom is a local naturalist and retired JCC Professor of Biology, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology from the University of Buffalo and SUNY Fredonia, respectively. She is a founding director of the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy, member of the Chautauqua Lake & Watershed Management Alliance Scientific Review and Advisory Committee, and member of the Macrophyte Management Strategy Technical Review Committee.  

(Chautauqua Lake photo by Jen Leister; Becky Nystrom photo by CWC)

Wild Jamestown

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.