It’s been some time since we discussed the health of Chautauqua Lake and its affect on residents of Chautauqua County. OK, that may be a big statement but let’s look at it.
Let’s check the facts. Chautauqua Lake is a 13,100-acre natural lake. There are many who think that Chautauqua Lake is part of the infamous Finger Lakes chain. A look at any map would lead one to believe that this statement might be true, but what is true is Chautauqua Lake was formed by glaciers 1,600 years ago, give or take a couple of hundred years. As with most glacier lakes, Chautauqua is deeper in the northern basin and shallower in the southern basin.
The origin of the name of our lake, Chautauqua, has been debated, but for years but it’s generally accepted that Chautauqua is a native Indian word for “bag tied in the middle.” Whatever the origin of the name, all one has to do is mention the word Chautauqua to most folks within 150 miles of our county it will bring a response.
For some it means education, music or entertainment as in Chautauqua Institution. For others the name Chautauqua brings thoughts of miles of vineyards and first-class wine. Some folks think of great fishing and water recreation when they hear the word Chautauqua.
No matter what one thinks about when they hear the word Chautauqua, it’s based on water. The health of our fishery effects more than just sportsmen, but all those who live in the county. It doesn’t depend on what business one is in, Chautauqua Lake is part of what makes our economy click.
For more years than I can remember there have been heated debates about the health of Chautauqua Lake and it generally is based around vegetation growth on the lake. Over the years, thousands of hours have been spent debating the proper way to control vegetation, notwithstanding the amount of money that has been spent on studies and control methods.
One thing that’s evident when the issue of the health of Chautauqua Lake is brought up is that people are passionate about their beliefs and they will share their passion with others of the like mind.
Now once one or more gather in the name of a belief it becomes a news item and the passion grows. Without all the different interests from each segment of the population, the needs of the lake and its watershed would not be protected.
First and foremost, I am no biologist and do not lay claim to a secret fix, if there needs to be one. I am just an average guy who happens to spend 70-plus days a year on Chautauqua Lake. Now there are many that may know me and I am sure some not so much, but in a layman’s point of view – Chautauqua is in pretty good shape.
While I believe that many of the practices that we are using on Chautauqua Lake to control vegetation have had a positive affect on the weed growth, history has proven that more needs to be done. From beginning to get a handle of the watershed, harvesting and past experience of the introduction of webble and moth into the lake, they all are having a positive impact on the lake and the fishery.
Chautauqua Lake is complex body of water with many of issues and just as many different users. Trying to balance all needs of the individuals that use the lake and property owners is a difficult one. Unfortunately, there is no model on how to be successful, only suggestions.
One would think with all the lakes in the state, there would be another body of water and watershed that has gone through the same difficulties we are dealing with. Like many before us have said, there is no place like Chautauqua Lake and with that statement comes our own set of challenges.
Managing anything as complex as a lake is difficult, but unlike some, I feel that the direction in which our lake is going is proper.
I was told many years ago that a lake is like a business – it has its ups and downs. Every year there will be good years and years when things are not so good. Some feel that Chautauqua Lake should be like a huge swimming pool, which is neither healthy nor realistic.
There will be, for whatever reason, years when it seems that no matter were one goes on the lake there will be vegetation choking the life out of it. Then there are years when vegetation is under control and boaters, swimmers and anglers are all happy.
There has been one group on Chautauqua Lake that has fought the battle of keeping Chautauqua Lake healthy – the Chautauqua Lake Association.
The CLA has always been there while members and board members have come and gone there has been one man lending the charge to keep a good balance -Paul Swanson.
Swanson loves Chautauqua Lake and has called it his home for more years than he shares and his love of our lake has kept the fire burning in his soul to do all he can, oftentimes with very little help, to keep Chautauqua Lake in the best health possible.
It was not a surprise when it was announced, through extra funding from members and local and state governments, that the CLA will be able to run pretty much full bore throughout the summer.
From harvesting to shoreline cleanup, Swanson, his crew of CLA employees and local volunteers will be doing all they can to keep the lake in good shape.
This is not to say other organizations such as the Chautauqua Watershed and the Chautauqua Lake Management Commission are not important. But since 1954, the CLA has been at the front in lake management and doing the grunt work.
So far this season has been a great one for all the users of lake and only time will tell how the remainder of the season will be, but that’s the exciting thing about having a lake in our backyard to enjoy.
A big tip of hat to the CLA for all they do to keep Chautauqua Lake healthy for all of us to enjoy.