I went for a boat ride on the lake this past summer for the first time in decades, and it really made me note the importance of preserving the lake shore. Normally, if I am on the lake, I am puttering about in the outlet in a kayak. The outlet feels wild and is full of herons, osprey, kingfishers and more. The rest of the lake came as quite a shock to me. In contrast to the outlet, which is almost all wild, the rest of the lake is all people. Homes march up and down the shore, along with docks, lawns and gazebos.
Don't get me wrong, I think it's probably great to live on the lake, but I was shocked by just how many people have moved to the shore. My memories of the lake are from 25 years ago when a friend of my parents took us all out on a boat ride. Memories fade, but I remember a half-wild lake with endless trees on the shore, more like the outlet.
I served on the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy's board of directors years ago and remember how hard everyone there was working to preserve the last wild areas on the shore. At the time, I really loved exploring the preserves on the lake. They were full of interesting plants and wildlife that I didn't see in other places. To understand the urgency there was to preserve the wild places, I should have gone out on a boat. From the water, the last wild places on the lake stand out. They are the last bits of fully forested land. As the boat drove past them, everyone perked up. These were the places where it still felt like anything was possible. Here, there could be deer, bears, turtles, foxes and more. They felt more alive, more full of potential than the parade of cottages, houses and lawns.
The CWC works to preserve natural lake shorelines such as this one.
Photo by Jeff Tome
The CWC is still working to preserve this land as part of the wild character of the lake, but also for the health of the lake. Some of these wild places are where the muskies and other fish breed. Others provide food and shelter for migrating birds. Some of these spots make for great fishing or hunting. It's funny - I can probably come up with a dozen scientific reasons why these wild places should be preserved, but none of them is the true reason. Deep down, as we motored by those wild places along the lake that have already been conserved, a part of me noticeably relaxed. I began to look forward to the next wild patch, realizing how far apart they are and how quickly they pass by. There isn't much left, certainly not like what I remember. What's left is precious not just for the value to wildlife or preserving a tiny bit of wild lakefront to give the next generation a taste of the wild Chautauqua Lake, but for the relaxing feel of a wild lakeshore still teeming with possibilities.
Jeff Tome is a senior naturalist for programs and exhibits for the Jamestown Audubon Society and a longtime CWC volunteer and supporter. The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy presently has its 2011-12 membership drive under way and is seeking donations to conserve the Wells Bay Lakeshore. To support these efforts, visit our website at www.chautauquawatershed.org or call 664-2166.