Imagine a wall of ice plowing like a bulldozer across the county. Everything in its path would be ground up and pushed away. There would be nothing but ice and cold. No trees. No plants.
Chautauqua County was covered with ice during the last ice age around 10,000 years ago. Over a mile of ice - 5,000 feet of it! - covered most of the county. The thick ice ground away everything in its path, from mountains to streams, and changed the land forever. The ice advanced a little ways into Warren county and stopped, leaving a pile of gravel where it stopped. Geologists call that a moraine. The ice melted away slowly, retreating back to the frigid north that it came from.
As the glacier ice retreated, it left behind some giant ice babies. These enormous chunks of ice were left sitting in the gravel left behind the glacier. These chunks of ice were bigger than most towns in the county. They melted down into the holes they were sitting in, forming the lakes in the northern part of Chautauqua County. These lakes are called kettle hole lakes. Locally, they include the Cassadaga Lakes and Bear Lake. They were formed by ice left behind by retreating glaciers, but are refreshed continually by water from the ground.
An aerial view of Chautauqua Lake.
Ten thousand years later, these lakes continue to be unique. They have lush wetlands around them and hidden bogs nearby. Bogs are not your typical wet spot. They are made up of a bouncy mat of moss floating on top of the water. Bogs contain rare plants and animals not found in any other place, including insect-eating plants, rare turtles, and more.
These lakes in the county suffer some of the same problems as other lakes. They have the same weed problems with Eurasian milfoil. They suffer from runoff and pollution from people living along the lake. People living along the lake are not purposely hurting the lake, but most of them have no idea that washing dog waste into the lake or dumping excess fertilizer on the lawns have any effect.
It's just as important to keep our smaller lakes clean and healthy as it is our larger ones. The lands around the lake that are still wild, especially the wetlands and bogs, are just as important to the health of the mini-watersheds as the creeks and land around Chautauqua Lake.
Ten thousand years ago, the glaciers left Chautauqua County a gift of several lakes, melted from pure glacial ice. Today, it is up to the people who live around them, play in them, and love them to make sure those gifts are given the care they need and deserve to keep them pure for generations to come.
Jeff Tome is a Senior Naturalist for Programs and Exhibits at the Jamestown Audubon Society and a longtime CWC volunteer and former board director. The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local not-for-profit organization that is 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, visit www.chautauquawatershed.org or call 664-2166.