Saturday Skiing

NORTH HARMONY – A blanket of freshly fallen snow was welcomed by those who participated in the Chautauqua Watershed Conservancy’s cross-country skiing and snow-shoeing tour.

On Saturday, members and patrons of the CWC gathered at the Loomis Goose Creek wetland preserve to tour the land.

The property was purchased two years ago by the CWC through funding made available by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the New York State Development of Environmental Conservation and several Goose Creek residents. It consists of 30 acres, 25 of which are wetlands, including 450 feet of lakeshore and 3,000 feet of the wild west bank of Goose Creek. According to John Jablonski, executive director of the CWC, Goose Creek is the largest creek in the Chautauqua Lake Watershed.

The moving creek waters help keep the area more ice-free, and are available for waterfowl to use over extended periods when the rest of the lake is iced over. The property is the third-largest wetland on Chautauqua Lake and is also one of the most important habitats remaining on the lake. It provides habitats for various species of fish and wildlife, including: kingfishers, heron, mallards, wood ducks, Canada geese, waterfowl, beavers, mink, turtles and amphibians.

The land is part of the Chautauqua Watersheds Tributary Preserve System. It is located near 2500 Route 394 and Fardink Road in North Harmony, and is designated by a sign and a small parking lot for visitors.

“This parcel is on the mouth of Goose Creek, which is the largest creek in the Chautauqua Lake Watershed,” said Jablonski. “Therefore, it carries the most pollutants, sediments and tree limbs and things like that. By maintaining this as floodplain, hopefully the creek can flood into this area and allow some of those materials to filter out before it flows into the lake.”

The land was previously owned and used as farmland by the Loomis family, which had owned the property for nearly a century. According to Jablonski, most of the property is under a federal reserve program known as conservation easement – an agreement in which a governmental unit or organization may exercise rights otherwise held by the landowner so as to achieve certain conservation purposes. Just prior to the CWC purchase of the land, the Loomis family heirs put a permanent easement on the property, which paid them most of the property value and allowed the CWC to buy out the rest at a reasonable price.

“As a bonus of (the conservation easement), the federal government took this area that had been crop land before and provided a grant, through an agreement with the previous owner, to install ponds here,” said Jablonski. “Basically, it’s one long, interconnected, three-lobed shallow pond that is 18 inches to 4 feet deep.”

He added: “So this was (originally) wetlands, was then used for agriculture (over the course of) decades, and the federal government’s program to restore wetlands enabled the landowner to get funding to preserve it and restore wetland habitats here.”

According to Jablonski, wetland soil has been spread over the ponds, which will create a seedbed that should regrow. He also said that the CWC intends to construct a wildlife observation blind, allowing visitors to look diagonally over the length of the property and see what comes in and out of the ponds. Additionally, the CWC plans to plant shrubbery to screen the ponds from the parking lot and street, making the area appear more natural to wildlife.

“This is probably our third or fourth tour that we’ve had here,” he said. “We’ve had two winter tours over the last two winters and have had a good turnout each time. We’re trying to bring out our members and the public to introduce them to as many properties as possible. Hopefully, they’ll come back on their own and enjoy it whenever they get a chance.”

The CWC was founded in 1990 and contains nearly 1,200 members. It has conserved approximately 800 acres of land at locations throughout the county in addition to the Chautauqua Lake Watershed. They include parts of the Lake Erie Watershed, parts of Cassadaga Creek and the land from the middle to lower sections of Cassadaga Lake.