This offseason: A path to a greener Chautauqua, strewn with boulders

Katie McLean | Staff Photographer
Algae covers the new Chautauqua Golf Club wetlands Thursday. The algae growth is encouraged by phosphate and nitrate nutrients settling in the wetlands — and not Chautauqua Lake. The nutrients also nourish the native plantings around the wetlands, which, when mature, will obscure most of the algae. The bare area at the bottom center of the photo is what will become part of the third tee of the golf club’s Lake Course, which will be completed in the off-season.

Chautauquans will recall that the Institution received federal and New York state grants totaling more than $700,000 in 2011 to support efforts to better manage stormwater runoff and to help keep Chautauqua Lake free of phosphates and other harmful nutrients.

One of the signature elements in the Institution’s plan to spend the grant money most effectively is a wetlands project near the tee on the third hole of Chautauqua Golf Club’s Lake Course. The wetlands project has taken visible shape during the 2013 Season.

The principal focus for the upcoming off-season in terms of the Institution’s green efforts will be completing the golf course project. This includes extensive enhancements to the South End Ravine, which carries water across Route 394, under Massey Avenue and Thunder Bridge, past the Girls’ Club and into the lake.

“A number of people have been surprised that there is water in our wetlands,” said Ryan Kiblin, the Institution’s grounds, gardens and landscaping manager. “But this is how we designed it. While landscape architects design rain gardens in order to rapidly absorb … rainwater, a wetland [area] is supposed to retain water long enough for the accompanying sediment to settle on the bottom and not run into the lake.

“We have planted emergent native plants in the new wetlands,” Kiblin continued. “They are all like cattails: They love to grow up through the water, thrive in standing water, and soak up considerable amounts of water.”

Next to the golf course wetlands is a catch basin to trap and hold overflow in the event of heavy rainfall. Only water that leaves the catch basin will flow under Route 394 and enter what is called the Massey floodplain, the area between Massey Avenue and Route 394.

This is where the off-season work comes in. Kiblin said large boulders each weighing up to one ton will be brought in and implanted in the stream bed in the South End Ravine from Massey Avenue down to the Girls’ Club.

The boulders will be placed mid-stream, creating weirs, or miniature dams, behind which water will pool before flowing toward the lake. Again, the idea is to slow the water down, letting sediment and nutrients settle before entering the lake.

Kiblin has fielded numerous questions about the size of the boulders, mostly about why the rocks need to be so large. “The answer is simple: Smaller rocks would simply be pushed down the stream bed by the force of the water flow,” she said.

There are other green projects on the drawing board for the coming off-season, including a buffer zone — which will use native vegetation to stop rainwater from going straight into the lake — on the lake shore from the Sports Club to Children’s Beach. There are also plans for a series of weirs on three smaller ravines on the grounds: the Bliss ravine, between Scott and Bliss avenues; Forest Avenue ravine, between Forest and Root avenues; and Elm ravine, which carries water runoff between Gebbie and Hazlett avenues.

“We aren’t likely to need one-ton boulders in these smaller formations,” Kiblin said. “The flow and volume of water involved is far less, though we will be building smaller weirs in these ravines, too.”

Kiblin and Doug Conroe, director of operations, said they are considering a rain garden for part of the wedge-shaped grassland behind Norton Hall. This would filter water coming from the North Parking Lot and the asphalted area behind the bus garage, Fletcher Music Hall and Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall before sending it into the Forest Avenue ravine.

“We’re in the design stage on this one,” Conroe said. “It would complement well what is happening around Fletcher Hall, if we could do it.”

Chautauqua is funding the golf course wetlands, ravine work and shoreline buffers with the federal and state grant money.

Dean Gowen, a landscape architect who has completed many projects on the grounds, is working with a civil engineer and also with the Institution to design the projects funded by the grant money. Then, Gowen and Kiblin will consult on the plantings.

“We have gone through all the environmental procedures,” Conroe said. “New sites will still require archeological surveys as we proceed, but the Institution grounds are so intensively developed that it is unlikely anything will be unearthed.”

A final off-season project will be a detailed tree survey of Miller Park, both on the lake side near the bell tower and also between South Lake and Simpson. The survey is necessary due to the large number of mature trees in the park, Conroe said.

“We are just assessing the situation to see where we stand,” Conroe emphasized. “This is about seeing what care is needed for the trees. We will look at how the overall park is used to see if we can help it to function even better.”