Civic League Learns Allegany State Park Lore

ALLEGANY – Amusing and informative anecdotes about Allegany State Park kept members of the Cattaraugus Ladies Civic League chuckling during their meeting on April 13. Rick Feuz, local retired high school teacher, served as presenter. He has worked at the park for many years, both before and since his 2013 retirement from teaching. Since he has spoken to the group before on the subject, he called this talk, “Allegany Updates.”

During his time on the job in the park, Feuz has amassed an impressive collection of Allegany lore. Much of it, he knows from first-hand experience, is factual; some, he suspects, could be fiction – or maybe just richly embroidered factoids. And then, there’s the category he regards as out and out tall tales. During his talk, he drew a bit from each of these categories, starting off with recent developments.

“Did you know that $1.7 million has been spent building a new beach house at the Red House Lake?” Feuz asked. “They’re hoping to have it ready for this upcoming swimming season. If anyone here ever used the old facility, you’ll notice one very welcome improvement in the new one. The changing rooms are no longer open to the elements.” Feuz said the old beach house was built in 1965, and had pretty much outlived its usefulness.

“Oh yes, and about the road over the dam,” Feuz warned, “you’ll recall it was always rather serpentine and scenic. Well, right now, that area looks like the surface of the moon.”

As his audience reactively groaned, he quickly added, “But don’t worry – it’ll come back fast, once it’s been re-landscaped and planted.”

Feuz went on to explain how the popularity of the park has necessitated certain unwelcome changes. To accommodate the additional traffic and to improve public safety, engineers decided some of more tree-lined, winding roads should be widened and straightened, which meant removing a lot of trees. “That really upsets people,” he said, “especially the ones who’ve been returning to the park for years. Just remember, even though it doesn’t look too great at the moment, the work is needed and things grow fast in the park.”

“By the way,” he added, “that dam was actually constructed back in 1928, when they decided they wanted a lake in that part of the park. The ensuing Red House Lake was finished a couple of years later.”

Feuz also told the group about another current Allegany State Park project.

“You may have heard,” he said, “there’s a movement underway to save the old sawmill. To raise money, they’ve come up with a pretty cool idea – raffling off the use of a cabin for a week.” He said he wasn’t sure just which cabin (or cabins) would be involved, or how much the tickets would cost. “I’m sure you could get all the details by contacting the park or going on the website.”

Staying on the subject of camping, Feuz mentioned that in some of the newly built cabins, conditions are “kind of plush.” “I’m not even sure that you or I would call it camping,” he said. “There are kitchens with microwaves and convection ovens and all that stuff. There are even indoor flush toilets. Does that even qualify as camping? Dishes and linens are all furnished, too.”

“But, for the many people who like more primitive camping, many of the old cabins are still available,” Feuz added. “You’d be surprised how many people ask for them.” He said that crews are currently rehabbing some of those older cabins – not really updating them, just returning them to livability.

It was while Feuz was still in the business of teaching high school English that he first started volunteering to work at the park. Later, when the school started requiring graduates to earn a certain number of “community service” credits, he began taking groups of kids with him.

“We accomplished a lot of important projects,” he said. “Things like trail building and maintenance – cutting stairways into steeper slopes – cleaning, repairing and painting cabins. There’s always stuff that needs doing, and the kids have been a lot of help.” He believes the work helps instill respect for the natural beauty of the park, and for the endless physical effort it takes to keep it safe and accessible.

If you happen to talk to Rick’s wife, Terri, about her husband’s devotion to Allegany, you’ll notice that she refers to the park in a gender specific way. “I’ve competed with her for years,” said Terri, with a laugh. “I call her Rick’s other wife.”

Feuz harked back to the days when the park was not one contiguous area, but rather, a sprawling patchwork of parklands and private property. “It used to be broken up by many little farms and buildings and abandoned fields,” he said. “There was even a town or two – and, of course, all those old homes and buildings became ‘haunted,’ and some pretty good ghost stories grew up around them.”

Feuz passed around some photos taken in the park’s early days. He encouraged league members to share some of their own remembrances of “good old days” in the park. Some brought up the time when ski-jumping contests were regular and popular weekend events. “Did you know the ‘lift’ was a knotted rope, powered by an old Ford V-8 engine?” asked Feuz.

Others recalled a time when motorcycles and even autos were raced on the lake’s frozen surface. The discussion continued while members sampled an appetizing assortment of cookies, served with coffee or tea.