Matt Burkhartt | Staff Photographer
Following an engaging summer filled with softball, sailing, golf and other outdoor activities, Chautauquans may want to maintain their enriching recreational lifestyles into the off-season. As programming ends and the grounds begin to empty, many pursue opportunities outside the gates.
Although state parks in Ithaca, Salamanca and Castile, New York, provide excellent venues for outdoor excursions, Chautauquans can find unaltered settings and regenerating nature in their own backyard.
“Chautauqua County is rich in these different opportunities for exercise and leisure in nature,” said Andy Freay, director of recreation at Chautauqua Institution. “In addition to our waterfront and Lake Erie, there are a number of rivers and streams as well as plenty of public lands for people to hike and camp in.”
While most Chautauquans walk from program to program on a daily basis, the second-most-popular means of transportation is easy to guess. Hundreds of bikes roll around the grounds every day. This isn’t just true for the Institution, though. Chautauqua, with its rolling hills and gorgeous vistas at every turn, is any cyclist’s paradise.
With circuits covering every scenic mile of the area — from Northeast, Pennsylvania, to Fredonia and Westfield to Jamestown — Chautauquans can embark on an intimate ride through all of the county’s charming countryside. With distances ranging from less than 20 miles to almost 100, both novices and pros have the chance to stretch their legs on a route of their choice.
Some of the most popular lengthy courses include the Fredonia Ride — a 50-miler beginning at the Institution’s gates and passing through vineyards, Amish country, and Victorian towns — and the Westfield Century Ride, which covers 96 miles along the shores of Lake Erie and through seven villages within the Grape Belt.
Shorter rides like the 40-mile Chautauqua Lake Route or the Busti-Harmony Ride are perfect for beginners and just as spectacular.
While Chautauqua Lake and the county’s other watering holes provide excellent boating, swimming and fishing opportunities, the Chautauqua County Parks Commission maintains many other avenues for aquatic recreation. One of the most popular in the area is the Marden E. Cobb Waterway Trail.
Named after the park commission’s second chairman, this waterway trail is composed of two historic water routes: the Cassadaga and Conewango creeks. Both tributaries of the Allegany River, the streams were used by Native Americans and early explorers for trapping and traveling.
Cassadaga Creek begins near South Stockton and runs south of Falconer. The Conewango runs from north of Kennedy to Kiantone. Both waterways provide relatively flat water, ideal for kayaking, canoeing and fishing. Over 25 miles in length each, the Cassadaga and Conewango creeks have multiple parking and launch areas as well as some lean-to shelters on county-owned land for overnight trips.
With deep gorges, dense coniferous forests, and gradually rising peaks, the surrounding wilderness of southwestern New York provides an idyllic setting for a backcountry hike along one of Chautauqua’s many trails. The county’s two main trail systems — the Chautauqua Rails to Trails and the Overland Trails — afford some of the best opportunities for a memorable walk in the woods.
Consisting of eight separate trails, the Rail-Trail system is composed of abandoned rail corridors and includes two loops.
The first loop begins north of Sherman on Titus Road and ends near the Summerdale “ghost town” to the north, near Chautauqua Gorge. This 15-mile route is steep near Route 430 and fairly tough, but is a welcome challenge for the bold mountain biker.
The second loop starts on the Portage Trail, parallel with Route 394, and heads east toward Plank Road and south toward Route 430. Only seven-and-a-half miles along road, dirt paths and railroad tracks, this loop is ideal for a relaxing day hike.
The Overland Trails are split by Chautauqua Lake and provide hiking, biking and cross-country skiing opportunities. The Fred J. Cusimano Westside Overland Trail runs through more than 24 miles of New York State Reforestation areas, county-owned land and private property. The Earl Cardot Eastside Overland Trail covers 19 miles, including part of the Canadaway Creek Wildlife Management Area, and runs north from Gerry to the Town of Arkwright.
Whatever outdoor pursuit is preferred, the beauty and natural splendor of the county supplements any Chautauqua experience.
“The facilities and programs at Chautauqua are top-notch, and anyone who stays here should take advantage of them in the summer and off-season,” Freay said. “But with the richness of the surrounding environment, there’s the opportunity for the Institution and the county to truly complement each other.”
More information on these recreational opportunities can be found at the Welcome Center near the Main Gate or at the County website, www.tourchautauqua.com.