Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy Opens New Preserve
NORTH HARMONY – What was once part of North Harmony’s very first settlement is now the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy’s twelfth large preserve, thanks to the generosity of Chautauqua County native Wilson R. Huhn and his family. Earlier this month, members of the CWC board of directors, the Huhn family, neighbors, and friends celebrated the dedication of the Mary and Tom Huhn Nature Park. For nearly 45 years, the Huhn family owned the 52-acre homestead that overlooks Cheney Point, and now future generations can enjoy its beauty.
On a September afternoon, dozens gathered at the base of the preserve’s trail for the dedication ceremony, which included several members of the large Huhn family, who traveled from out of state and tuned in remotely via video conferencing. Huhn and his four siblings grew up on the 52-acre property, which his parents, Mary and Tom Huhn, purchased in 1949. Upon graduating from the Chautauqua School District, Huhn earned his B.A. from Yale University and his J.D. from Cornell University and went on to teach at the University of Akron School of Law for over 30 years. Now a law professor at Duquesne University, Huhn has maintained strong ties to the area and taken care of the two parcels comprising the 50 acres that he recently donated.
“It’s incredible,” CWC Executive Director Whitney Gleason told the OBSERVER. “Will (Huhn) reached out to John (Jablonski, former executive director) a long time ago before I was with the Watershed Conservancy. It’s just such a testament to Mr. Huhn’s dedication to preserving the natural world, but also to his family’s legacy.”
Gleason said when Huhn approached the CWC about donating the land, the organization was thrilled, though the process was not without its challenges. “We can’t accept land that we know has an issue with oil or gas wells, and this property had two wells that were no longer active but leaking. It was a real battle to get those closed,” Gleason told the OBSERVER. Thanks to the pro bono work of Polly Hampton, Esq., the CWC was able to get the wells closed. “There will be a wildflower meadow there instead of a leaky gas well!” The donation was truly a collaborative project, thanks to the efforts of Huhn, the CWC, and their respective attorneys who assisted in the land transfer: Cheryl M. Reed and Jonathan N. Courtis.
Gleason said this is one of the larger gifts of land received from an individual and is a gift that will continue to further the organization’s mission. “What we are is a land trust; we hold and protect land in perpetuity, but our purpose is two-fold,” she explained. Studies have shown that the ideal percentage of developed land in any given watershed is 70%. “After that, you really start to see water quality decline, so our goal is to get to that 70% for our watershed, and we’re actually not that far off.” The other part of the CWC’s purpose is to create and preserve natural places for community members to enjoy. “At 11 of our big preserves – this will be our 12th – we maintain trails, have parking, and accessibility for people to get out and be in nature…That’s equally important.”
During the ceremony, Huhn expressed his gratitude for the CWC’s mission and shared the family’s history with the land. “Mary and Tom kept several beautiful gardens,” he recalled. “Mary grew hibiscus and delphinium by the pump house, and Tom had a large rose garden by the back door… the large vegetable garden was down the hill toward the creek…” After raising five children and several animals on the property, the Huhns continued to enjoy the land and nearby lake and remained in the home until Mary Huhn’s death in 1992. After her death, the house and two acres were sold, and the rest of the acreage was maintained by Wilson Huhn until recently.
Wayne LaCross, who purchased the home in 2017, was part of the dedication and expressed his gratitude for the Huhns’ donation. As a child, LaCross spent many summers fishing at Cheney Point and always admired the house across the street. “I thought millionaires lived there,” he laughed, never knowing the historical home would one day be his.
During the dedication, LaCross shared the history of the home, which began as a cabin built by Jonathan Cheney in 1807. The surrounding 400 acres had been purchased by Cheney from the Holland Land Company just one year prior. In 1831, the cabin was added onto by Cheney and is now the basic structure of LaCross’s house. Besides their legacy as the first settlers of North Harmony, the Cheneys were abolitionists, and the house is listed on the county’s underground railroad map.
The homestead remained in the Cheney family until 1949, when it was purchased by the Huhns. “It’s truly amazing when one thinks about it,” said LaCross. “Only two families in the span of 186 years. That’s incredible. The Cheney family has a legacy of Cheney Point, Cheney Road, and Cheney Creek, and now through Will’s generosity, the Huhns have a legacy of the Mary and Tom Huhn Nature Park. May countless future generations enjoy its beauty.”
To learn more about the CWC, visit https://www.chautauquawatershed.org/. Prospective visitors to the Mary and Tom Huhn Nature Park should note that it will be open to the public beginning in October.