ELLICOTTVILLE - A drive through Ashford Hollow, or even just down some road out of Ellicottville, can make a person say, "This is pretty. It's really too bad more people don't travel down here."
More may be on the roads, now that the Western New York Southtowns Scenic Byway Trail is looking to expand into central Cattaraugus County.
Bob Lennartz has been working toward building the Western New York Southtowns Scenic Trail in 2002. He wanted to protect the scenery he enjoyed along Route 219, from Orchard Park to Springville. He built the trail, now some 70 miles of natural beauty, into a trail that meanders through some of the more quaint villages and towns of southern Erie County. Since talks started late last year, the idea of moving into northern Cattaraugus County has taken hold, progressing like a wild fire.
"I wanted to create routes to appeal to travelers in Western New York," Lennartz said. "The leg into Ellicottville is just a natural extension for what we have done in Erie County. Look at the amount of travelers you have in Ellicottville. Look at the scenic beauty of the area. The planned route (through Ashville from Springville) is a really pretty road. It was really a natural extension for us to look into."
In an effort to build the inroads with Cattaraugus County, Lennartz said he had a chance meeting with an Ellicottville photographer that saw what he was doing while at a celebration in Springville. The photographer said he needed to bring the route into Ellicottville.
"I told him that I didn't know the contacts in the area," Lennartz said. "He introduced me to the director of the Chamber of Commerce, Brian McFadden, and we were able to get this going."
The trail currently incorporates 14 interpretive signs that offer an educational piece to visitors. The signs explain the historical significance, cultural points of interest. The trail, one of 26 recognized by the New York State Department of Transportation as scenic byways, runs from Orchard Park, Aurora, Boston, Colden, Concord, East Aurora and Springville. For a municipality to be included, a resolution of support must be passed by, not only the municipal government, but the county government as well. Inclusion also hinges on themes of scenic value, historic value, cultural value and architectural value. Once that determination is made, development and integration can be completed.
Inclusion does carry some benefit to the new areas, Lennartz said. Federal statute places a moratorium on new billboard construction on the roadways. Al existing boards are grandfathered in, but no new ones will be allowed. The creation of such a route also opens doors to grants from state and federal sources, he continued, saying that grants have helped with the Erie County trail already. The 14 interpretive signs were a $82,000 project that was granted $66,000, with the rest coming form the participating municipalities. All municipal financial contributions have been voluntary, but they have also given the back bone for building what is needed in the project, Lennartz said.
The original inclusion of the new trail section into Cattaraugus County was expected to take place in 2015. Lennartz said he feels it can be completed by the end of the year.
"We should be able to get this done," he said. "The key to this whole thing has been the cooperation we have gotten from the Cattaraugus County communities in getting resolutions right away. I think everyone involved on the Cattaraugus County side has a can-do attitude. They made us feel welcome. There are people in Cattaraugus County that are trying to do things for the area. The leaders there are really top-notch."
While there have been no studies done since the placement of the route signs in 2012, and the interpretive signs in 2013 to show any kind of tourist or economic benefit, Lennartz said this is a step in getting to the starting line. He also said he has received several calls about car tours, bus tours and motorcycle runs through the trail. He said the extension into Cattaraugus County is going to help out in the financial and tourism side of development.
"We will be putting this whole thing in position for federal grant funds to improve the experience in the long run," he said. We are very appreciative in how well this is being received."