There is a jungle along Chautauqua Lake down Bemus Point way. Monkeys, jaguars, anacondas?!?! Well, no, but an intrepid explorer may encounter many animals just as intriguing as Tarzan's companions including small bright birds, shy mammals, sleek reptiles and spectacular insects. However, because the definition of a jungle applies here - "an area of thick tangled plant growth" - exploring this jungle may be a little difficult.
The impenetrable quality of the environment is why the animals are there. The thorns of the brambles defend nestlings, while the scrubby sumac trees provide a meal of tart red fuzzy berries for their parents. Thick shrubs screen white-tailed deer from dangerous eyes. Fallen branches overgrown with grass and covered in old leaves are a roof over the tunnels and runways of countless mice, voles, moles and rabbits. Flycatchers and kingfishers find the branches overhanging the lake convenient perches upon which to survey their prey populations of flying insects and fish.
Where is this wild place? Lake Chautauqua Lutheran Center. It's a jungle because, although the area was once part of a well-tended farm owned by the Welches (of Welch's Grape Juice), it went untended when the farm was abandoned and sold to become part of LCLC. In 2003, the Lutheran Center and the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy entered into an easement agreement that stipulates that this 16 acres of the center's shoreline remain undeveloped forever. LCLC's jungle is not the only jungle on Chautauqua Lake though. The CWC has entered into similar easement agreements or actually purchased shoreline property so that the land could remain in its natural, undeveloped condition in such places as Prendergast Point, Stowe Farm Lakeshore and Chautauqua Lake Outlet.
Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy
The shoreline of Chautauqua Lake is a real estate gold mine. Everyone wants to live on the lake where there is swimming, boating and a beautiful view at your doorstep. That doorstep is located upon a piece of land where the jungle has been cleared away to make room for a house, usually surrounded by a nice, neat landscape consisting of non-native plants. We humans manipulate nature to suit our desires. Jungles are undesirable. Thorns hurt. Scrubby trees are not neat. You cannot stroll through thick shrubs. Fallen branches will trip you. And shoreline trees get in the way of the dock and shade the beach.
That impenetrable mass of vegetation on the ground is also an impenetrable mass of roots underground. That serves an ecological purpose too. Just as the vegetation prevents humans from strolling through it, the roots prevent soil from moving through and into the lake. Sediment buildup is a major ecological threat to Chautauqua Lake. The sediment comes primarily from the erosion of cleared land in the watershed. Those roots of the jungle also absorb nutrients. Neat landscapes are fed lots of fertilizer, often too much. The excess fertilizer dissolved in watershed water flows into the lake where it feeds aquatic weeds growing on the built-up sediment. But if the water with fertilizer flows through a jungle, the plants there will absorb the nutrients, grow and provide food and shelter for monkeys, jaguars and anacondas. Well, maybe not monkeys, jaguars and anacondas, but the plants will provide food and shelter for the animals that do live in Chautauqua Lake's jungles.
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, call 664-2166 or visit www.chautauquawatershed.org or www.facebook.com/chautauquawatershed.