Gowen to lead BTG Lake Walk on Sustainable Shoreline Action Plan

Chautauqua Institution has implemented a Sustainable Shoreline Action Plan to guide ongoing efforts to maintain and improve its lakefront, much of which is seen here from the air.

While it might seem like Chautauqua has been dealing with environmental and health concerns posed by Chautauqua Lake since the dawn of time, Dean Gowen recalls when sustainability first became a priority for the Institution.

Gowen, the landscape architect behind Chautauqua’s ongoing Sustainable Shoreline Action Plan, will lead the Bird, Tree & Garden Club’s Lake Walk at 6:30 p.m. tonight, where he will discuss the Institution’s initiatives to preserve the health and beauty of the lake. The walk will begin at the covered porch at Heinz Beach below the Youth Activities Center.

Gowen’s connection to Chautauqua began in the late 1990s when he was hired to redevelop the Main Gate.

Since then, he has witnessed Chautauqua evolve into a community that considers the environmental impacts of its projects, especially as they relate to the lake.

“Around 2007-2008, I worked on the Fletcher Music Hall nature park and rain garden, which was an effort that really started the whole movement toward green dealing with water quality,” he said. “We basically transformed a parking lot there into a natural setting and rain garden.”

After that project, Gowen said, sustainability entered the mainstream Chautauquan lexicon.

In 2012, he and his team composed the SSAP by looking at the existing conditions along the shoreline. In particular, they focused on two issues: storm­water runoff and wave action.

Gowen said the plan examined how to treat dirty runoff before it enters the lake, how to prevent it from reaching the lake in the first place, and how to build a natural shoreline that reduces the strength of wave activity, thereby mitigating erosion along the shore.

“The plan became the blueprint for just about everything we’re working on today,” he said.

Gowen worked closely with Scott Rybarczyk, the civil engineer for the SSAP, who works with him at Wendel, an engineering, surveying and landscape architecture company based in Buffalo, New York.

“Dean and I work well as a team,” Rybarczyk said of their collaboration on the SSAP and their current projects with Chautauqua Lake. “He comes up with a vision of what needs to be done and I make sure it will meet the requirements that New York State and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers need.”

Creating a visually stunning shoreline while serving the fish habitats and preserving water quality is also part of Rybarczyk’s job. He realized this goal with the SSAP by creating alternating “wetlands,” which are man-made extensions of the lake that extend into the shore, and rocky areas along the shore in order to create a varied shoreline.

“You don’t want to have just a straight shoreline,” Rybarczyk said. “It isn’t pleasing to the eye and it isn’t how nature really works.”

Though the SSAP is complete, the work of Gowen, Rybarczyk and their team is ongoing. Just last year working with Chautauqua staff, they completed a rain garden near Children’s Beach, a shoreline wetland along the east side of the Pier Building and a natural shoreline near Palestine Park.

They are also in the process of naturalizing the shoreline in front of the Athenaeum Hotel, which will be completed this fall. All of these projects are offshoots of the SSAP.

At tonight’s walk, Gowen will highlight the improved conditions along the shore, as well as areas of the shoreline that have not yet been worked on. He believes the walk will provide people with a visual understanding of many of the ongoing issues relating to the shoreline that they might have only read or heard about.

Having given similar Lake Walk presentations for the past two years, Gowen feels confident the presentation will be informative for anyone interested in learning about the lake.

“People are impressed with the knowledge they gain,” he said. “I can literally say, ‘See that condition? This is what we’ve done to mitigate that.’ I think people will gain an understanding of some very minor improvements that can really make a difference and change things for the better.”