STOW - There are few things functioning in Chautauqua County that are 202 years old, and there are even fewer raft-styled ferries left in the nation, which makes the Bemus Point-Stow Ferry a local attraction of which to be proud.
Despite Veterans Memorial Bridge being built in 1982, the ferry has found a way to continue to stay relevant. However, this relevance couldn't happen without the work and dedication of local volunteers and patrons of the ferry, and few know that better than John Cheney.
"Since we've took over running it, I think it has become an attractive destination for tourists," said Cheney. "We do it all with volunteer help, and that's the way it's been since 2007. It's run very successfully, but it isn't me, it's the volunteers that have stepped up to donate their time, and the companies that are always looking out for us, as well."
The Bemus Point-Stow Ferry is in its 202nd year of operation.
P-J photo by Remington Whitcomb
In addition to a slew of volunteers, Cheney mentioned Cummins Engine and Fitzsimmons Hydraulics as two companies which have gone out of their way to ensure that the Bemus Point-Stow Ferry continues to operate.
As some may know, the Bemus Point-Stow Ferry experienced mechanical difficulties shortly after it opened for the season this year. However, thanks to help from others, the ferry has been able to continue operations as usual, and has seen steady use when it is open on Fridays and weekends.
"We'd like to see more people use it, but we can only operate it (on Fridays and weekends) because everyone who operates it does so on a voluntary basis," said Cheney. "I think it is important that we maintain it and keep it going - it's part of the history of Chautauqua County, but we only have enough volunteers to operate it as we do. Unfortunately, the cost of maintaining the ferry has quadrupled in the past few years just because of state mandates. The cost of insurance is just about three times as much per year as the cost of fuel. If it were not for all of the volunteers, all of the help we get from local organizations and companies, and all the generous donations we get from (patrons) of the ferry, who knows what its fate might have been. As it is, though, its 202 years old, and we'd like to keep it going for another 200 years."
The most recent addition to the Bemus Point-Stow Ferry came this year thanks to fundraising which began during the ferry's bicentennial in 2011. New signs which tell the ferry's hours of operation and encourage guests to, "Come, travel aboard the Bemus Point-Stow Ferry and share in a history that goes back to 1811 when Thomas Bemus pulled a log raft back and forth across the lake at this point," are now proudly displayed upon the ferry.
And though he appreciates the historical aspect of continuing to operate the ferry in 2013, Cheney said it's the other people who support the ferry that makes him feel good about what he does.
"It's the people you meet that appreciate what we do, and I'll speak for all the volunteers, that keep us at it," said Cheney. "Being told about how much others appreciate that the ferry is still operating is exactly why we continue to operate it."