Progress Being Made On Planned Cassadaga Lake Nature Park

CASSADAGA — Since last summer, the non-profit organization, Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy (CWC), in partnership with the Cassadaga Lakes Association (CLA), has been applying for grant funding to acquire 77 acres of property on Cassadaga Lake for a nature park, which will be open to the public. CWC Executive Director John Jablonski said the project, which began approximately a year ago, has received about one third of the funding needed to purchase the land from a private seller.

The CWC has approximately $50,000 toward the overall $180,000 project, and is currently in the process of applying for a $90,000 state grant, according to Jennifer Nesbitt, CWC development coordinator. To date, funding has been committed or donated by the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation, the CLA, the Jessie Darrah Smith Fund of Jamestown and the Lenna Foundation of Lakewood.

Jablonski explained that approximately one third of the property is wetlands (1,100 feet of wetland shoreline) and serves a very important role in the protection of the lake. “There is a stream that flows through to the lakes and carries water from Route 60 and farmlands about 1,800 acres above it. The wetland area is a final filter before the water flows into Cassadaga Lake, and it’s key to preventing the lake from becoming polluted.” Part of the proposed park includes 26 acres of exceptionally high ecological value lakefront wetlands.

In addition to protecting the lake, the land serves an important purpose for the wildlife populations that inhabit it. Jablonski said that it is a habitat for all kinds of waterfowl, salamanders, snakes, turtles, frogs and wetland birds, like blue heron. There are also many mature hemlock and white pine trees in the area. “You just don’t see that anymore,” Jonathan Townsend, CWC Land Manager, said of the mature tree growth. “You get into the forest, and even though it’s right on the highway, on Route 60, it’s peaceful.”

In addition to large populations of pike and bass, Cassadaga Lake is known for its muskellunge fishing; “muskie” caught in the lake can exceed 40 inches in length. “Really, it’s one of the best habitat spots in the whole county,” remarked Jablonski, “and it’s a very pretty place. We hope it can be shared by the wild inhabitants that live there, and people who can enjoy all kinds of activities there.”

To ensure public access, the conservancy will install a parking area, convert existing access roads to trails and install observation areas. Like the conservancy’s other properties, the nature park would host environmental programs, including hikes, tours and educational events, and the park will remain open to the public for outdoor activities ranging from fishing and hunting to hiking and snowshoeing.

The land, which is located in the town of Pomfret, borders Lily Dale and the northern part of Camp Gross. Another goal of the park is for the land to boost area tourism by offering another place for visitors to explore. “We want it to be available for people at Camp Gross to incorporate into their programming…We think it will be a great addition to the community. If people are visiting Lily Dale, it will be a nice place to hike and enjoy,” said Jablonski.

Partnering with the CLA has been instrumental to moving forward with the park. Other major supporters include Lily Dale Assembly, Camp Gross and the county legislature.

The CWC protects and manages 30 nature preserves throughout the county, including three on or near the Cassadaga Lakes. Founded in 1990, the CWC has grown to 1,100 members and recently reached their 1,000-acre milestone. Their mission is to enhance the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, and watersheds of the Chautauqua Region. To that end, the CWC employs a professional biologist as a conservation land manager and educates the public on the steps they can take to improve water quality in the region.

“It’s going to be there for everyone to use for free forever,” Townsend said of the proposed park. “It would be there for people to go and have as structured or unstructured time as they want.”

Anyone wishing to make a lead contribution to the purchase of the park can contact the CWC at 664-2166 or visit them online at Nesbitt said, “We are currently taking pledges toward our fundraising goal, and we soon will be launching a fundraising campaign for the Cassadaga Lake Nature Park.” The CWC hopes to raise enough funds to acquire the land next year.