The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy was founded by a group of Chautauqua County citizens concerned about the ecological health of the county’s lands and waterways. Led by John Jablonski III, with Rebecca Albaugh, Albert Cala and Rebecca Nystrom as trustees and Judith Claire and Robert Van Every as legal counsel, the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy was incorporated as a 501(c) 3 not-for-profit, public benefit corporation in 1990. 

That year, the CWC began educating Chautauqua County residents and property owners on caring for the region’s watersheds and waterways. It began publishing its newsletter, The ‘Shed Sheet, hosting workshops on wetlands and streams and presenting “60 Ways to Love Your Lake.” In 1993, a seed grant from the Gebbie Foundation enabled the CWC to hire John Jablonski III as the CWC’s first executive director. The CWC accepted its first land donation in 1995 from Willis Dobbins and established what is now the 100-acre Dobbins Woods Preserve near Ashville. At the same time, CWC acquired 83 acres in the Town of Chautauqua to establish the Elm Flats Wetland Preserve.

Since then, the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy has established 30 nature preserves and protected 3 other environmentally sensitive sites throughout Chautauqua County, including what has become the New York State Cheney Farm Preserve on Chautauqua Lake. In its nearly 30-year history, the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy has conserved more than 1,000 acres of land throughout Chautauqua County and two miles of shoreline on Chautauqua Lake and the  Chautauqua Lake Outlet as part of the conservancy’s Chautauqua Watersheds Tributaries and Wildlands Preserve System. The CWC also holds a conservation easement on 16 acres of lakeshore forest at the Lake Chautauqua Lutheran Center. 

The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy continues to serve as a leader in educating Chautauqua residents and property owners on preserving and enhancing the region’s lands and waterways. The CWC has developed dozens of educational workshops, presentations and programs on land conservation and lake and watershed stewardship. It regularly hosts watershed walks, waterfront and preserve cleanups, willow plantings and canoeing, paddling and skiing events.  In addition to educating residents and conserving Chautauqua’s lands, the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy also has become a resource for improving Chautauqua’s waterways. The CWC partners with local governments and other agencies to improve streambanks and lands to improve the health of Chautauqua’s watersheds and waters and encourages Chautauqua County governments to adopt watershed-friendly policies and practices.