If you took a survey and asked people what makes living in Chautauqua County awesome, I'm sure the list would be lengthy. Our lakes, especially Chautauqua Lake, would probably be at the top. But, I bet our county parks and overland trails would be close behind, as they should be. We are truly blessed here with an unbelievable conduit for outdoor adventures.
When I first experienced the Fred J. Cusimano Westside Overland Trail, I thought I had died and gone to hiker's heaven. The trails were well-marked and -maintained. I'd never hiked much on man-made trails. Usually, I just headed out into the woods, traipsing along on deer trails, ducking under branches and fighting my way through the brambles. When I finally emerged, I'd have lost my glasses, my hat, and would have twigs in my hair along with scratches covering my arms and legs. Imagine my delight to walk on a trail free of obstacles! A true love affair developed between me and those trails and I can only marvel at how much work must have gone into creating and maintaining them.
I wasn't around when the Westside Trail or the Earl Cardot Eastside Overland Trail were first built. Hundreds and hundreds of hours must have gone into the planning and building of the infrastructure. I'm sure the paths were designed to take advantage of natural walkways and clearings, but some places must have had needed the removal of brush and trees. Other areas would have required the building of foot bridges and wooden walkways. Right of way through private land would have had to been negotiated and finally someone had to put all the signs into place. Then, truly dedicated people would have been required to make sure things stayed in tip-top shape for the trails to stand the test of time. What a magnificent gift these people have given the rest of us and our children! I just hope there is a future for these trails.
The Fred J. Cusimano Westside Overland Trail is truly a heaven on earth for hikers who want to enjoy the wonders of nature throughout the year.
Photo by Susan M. Songster-Weaver
A while back, I cut out an article from The Post-Journal entitled''County Looking To Public For Help With Parks'' by Nicholas L. Dean. In the article, Dean outlined the challenges the parks department will face in 2012 as the staff would be cut to a single employee. He also gave information about the creation of a group called the ''Friends of Chautauqua County Greenways,'' who it is hoped will provide volunteer labor for the oversight and maintenance needs of the parks and trails. With this information, I got on the computer to see what I could find.
I found the ''Friends of the Chautauqua County Greenways'' website (www.friendsofchautauquagreenways.org/), logged in and joined the group. There were 23 other members on the roster, and I made the 24th. I just checked the website again today, and the count is up to 25 members, so maybe the word is getting out! I don't know what I'm getting myself into, but I'm willing to do my share to help out with maintaining these wonderful walkways into nature. Only time will tell if volunteerism is enough to help the county ensure the quality of our overland trail system. Let's all hope that the future will be bright for these trails and somehow both the public and private sectors can come up with a way to succeed. I know I will try to help, will you?
Susan Songster-Weaver is a retired teacher, nature lover and longtime CWC volunteer and supporter. The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a local not-for-profit 501(c)(3) land trust and watershed education organization with a mission to preserve and enhance the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. For more information on its current projects and programs and/or to join, visit www.chautauquawatershed.org or call 664-2166.