When I first started my college career three years ago at the University at Buffalo, I never dreamed that today I would be drudging through swamps and marshes and thoroughly enjoying it. After graduating from Jamestown High School and continuing on to my freshman year of college, I initially had my sights set on dentistry. Anyone who knows me well could tell you that I had wanted to be a dentist since I was about 7 years old. But when I actually started down the biology track with classes in field ecology and evolutionary biology, my aspirations changed from teeth to the great outdoors.
My first glimpse of field biology came my sophomore year at UB when I took a course that included going out in rain, snow, sleet and all the best of Western New York weather to identify plants and animals and to gain an understanding of why it is important to conserve what is left of untouched landscapes and wildlife habitat. I enjoyed the class so much that, to start my junior year last fall, I took a backpacking course to give me another chance to stray away from a 300-person lecture hall about cells and biochemistry to a class of 20 students with a passion for hiking and understanding nature and conservation. This new interest in conservation landed me here at the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy, where I am currently in my second summer as an intern.
Before I started my internship, I was aware that Chautauqua County had wetlands and a vast array of other types of biological communities and habitats. But when I visited the Conservancy's East Branch Chautauqua Creek Preserve near Sherman for the first time last week, I was really taken aback at the natural beauty of the site and realized just how much we really do have here that is completely untouched.
A view of a pond at the CWC’s East Branch Chautauqua Creek Preserve — one of the hidden gems of untouched nature here in Chautauqua County.
The 21-acre preserve, also affectionately called "The Beaver Swamp," consists of a community of waterways and small ponds that are naturally maintained with the help of a family or multiple families of beavers that inhabit this area. When I visited this site, it didn't seem like I was in Chautauqua County on some side street in Sherman, but instead, I felt like I was in a governmentally protected, well-known state park. One of my tasks as a CWC intern is to do field analyses of the different plants and animals that live on CWC preserves. When I ventured in and around the ponds at The Beaver Swamp to start my analysis there, I was astounded by the amount of wildlife that was packed into this 21-acre plot. I saw beaver lodges and dams, muskrat homes, Great Blue Herons flying overhead and multiple clues of other wildlife that venture in and out of this area.
When I look back at all the preserves I've already been able to visit this summer, I realize that I don't have to venture across the country to California or even across the state to the Adirondacks to find some amazing untouched landscapes and habitats. Although my trip to California's Yosemite National Park last summer was nothing short of incredible, I can say that what we have here in Chautauqua County is pretty interesting too and just a few miles away from our own homes for anyone to go out and enjoy without the price of traveling to far away parks. With this said, I hope I have sparked some interest in you to get out and enjoy the hidden gems we have right here in our own backyards.
The Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy is a private, nonprofit organization with a mission to preserve and enhance the water quality, scenic beauty and ecological health of the lakes, streams, wetlands and watersheds of the Chautauqua region. For more information on CWC preserves and watershed care, to sign up to receive CWC e-news or to support CWC's conservation activities, visit www.chautauquawatershed.org, like our Facebook page or call the CWC office at 664-2166.