It takes a lot of work to get ready for the summer season when you live on a lake. If you aren't a year-round resident, opening up your cottage after a long winter is a Herculean task And, even if you are lucky enough to live here all of the time, the work never ends. One of the hardest jobs, albeit the most rewarding, is putting in the dock. Once it's finally in, you can let the summer begin.
When I first started coming to Chautauqua Lake in the 1980s, I was surprised by the docks I saw. They extended far out into the lake and weren't permanent structures. I grew up near Cuba Lake, in Allegany County. Cuba is a manmade lake, and the water is drawn down in the winter by opening up the spillway. With the lower water levels, the docks are shorter, permanent structures. Because Chautauqua is a natural lake, there is no significant way to lower the water level. Docks must be removed before the first ice, or they would be locked in and then washed away when the lake thawed. The length is determined by the depth of the water. Chautauqua Lake is much shallower near shore than Cuba Lake.
Here, once the weather breaks in the spring, the rush is on to get your dock in. This is especially true if you are a fisherman and the "crappies" are calling you. We used to be the first dock in and the last dock out. My husband and I would put in our 60-foot wooden dock all by ourselves. There would be times, when I was still working, that I'd come home, and he would have gotten much of the dock in by himself! Not anymore. This year, mine was the last dock in, and I had to "thread the needle" - fit my dock in between all the others. It's better to be first.
Once the docks are in, summer can begin at the lake.
Photo by Susan M. Songster-Weaver
My wooden dock consists of six 10-foot sections and a "T" at the end. Each section sits on a metal stanchion. They are bolted to the breakwall and to each other. The "T" section is supported by two stanchions and bolted to the rest of the dock. Setting the first section is critical. If it isn't put in straight and hooked to the breakwall correctly, your dock will be wobbly and crooked. After the first one is in, you have to figure out where to set the second stanchion so that the next dock section can go in. It's very difficult to keep the dock going straight as you move along - after all, that darn old lake doesn't have any lines on it. Needless to say, since my husband died, my dock hasn't been the straightest or the most level, but with the help of friends and family, I've managed to get it in and learn a bit more each year.
To people not familiar with our lake and our system of docks, they often wonder why we don't just put in one big dock and let everyone use it. In some places, it probably would work to have a community dock. But to me and my neighbors, our docks are sacred ground, an extension of our homes. I think of it as my special front porch -my own little pathway to paradise. In the summer, on most mornings, I take my coffee and my little bowl of Cheerios out on the dock to enjoy. What a wonderful way to start the day.
Docks are in, and we are officially ready for summer. All that needs to happen now is for the weather to cooperate and warm up. There's kayaking and paddle boarding to do. Boating, tubing and water skiing to enjoy. Just keep your fingers and toes crossed that the lake will be healthy and clean this year. See you on the water.
Susan M. Songster Weaver is retired teacher, nature lover and longtime CWC volunteer and supporter. The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local nonprofit 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, call 664-2166 or visit www.chautauquawatershed.org or www.facebook.com/chautauquawatershed.