As tourist season in Chautauqua County grows closer, so does the time when crews begin work on Chautauqua Lake.
Recently, the Chautauqua Lake Association was awarded an additional $40,000 from the county's 2 percent bed tax by legislators. This provides the association with a total of $90,000 from the county, to go toward its budget of $676,000 for routine lake maintenance this summer, which will begin in June.
"Chautauqua Lake makes this area of Chautauqua County special and spectacular," said Douglas Conroe, president of the Chautauqua Lake Association. "The lake, I often refer to it as needing some geriatric care. It's 16,000 years old. It's always going to require lake maintenance. It's not going to stop. The question is the amount of lake maintenance."
According to Conroe, the Chautauqua Lake Association is roughly $40,000 away from reaching its $676,000 budget, thanks to fundraising and donations.
"Chautauqua Lake Association is currently in the midst of a fund drive that, if successful, will allow us to put three crews on the lake for 12 weeks, five days a week, 10 hours a day," he said. "Initial results are coming in strong, but we're still about a good $40,000 away from where we need to be. We are working very hard at trying to raise that additional $40,000.
That is assuming that last year's donors will continue to give again this year, otherwise we will need to raise more money."
The funds, according to Jeff Diers, Chautauqua County watershed coordinator, will have two harvesters, a barge, off-loader and dump truck operating at various points across the lake. However, this year, provided funding comes through, will be different than previous years.
"In previous years, they ran two crews, operating at seven hours," Diers said. "At the end of last year, the weeds were excessive. Chautauqua Lake Association went to the legislature requesting emergency funds from the 2 percent bed tax. That was awarded. Basically, what we're doing this year is getting ahead of that curve so that we are not trying to scramble around for funding and Chautauqua Lake Association trying to hire on and train an additional crew later on in the season. This allows them to be prepared early, to do what (it) calls normal maintenance."
Conroe predicts that the first lake bloom will occur in late May. Typically, he said, the lake sees an abundance of curly-leaf pondweed, which comes to the surface before turning brown and going away on its own by early July.
"So, we don't spend money that we don't have to deal with that, because it takes care of itself," Conroe said. "Financial resources are very tight, so our starting in mid-June allows us to work at some of the worst spots that might remain from the curly-leaf and then get a start on the other nuisance plants that have grown up at that time."
While the Chautauqua Lake Association is currently taking applications for summer help in addition to its four full-time employees, it is also looking to businesses for volunteers.
Individual volunteers are difficult, due to insurance issues, according to Conroe. However, in the past, corporations such as Cummins have provided volunteers to help with the lake. And, Conroe said CLA is working to find other corporate volunteers to help again this year.
"The success story about all of this is that the Chautauqua Lake Association has been able to assemble multiple sectors of the community, and forge them together to be able to provide a common, least-costly program," Conroe said. "Because of funding that we are able to assemble from governments, individuals, businesses, foundations, the financing works. Same way with labor. With this corporate program, it helps reduce our labor costs. We've also got the Welfare to Work program now, that's helping to reduce our labor costs."
Although costly, Conroe stressed the importance of maintaining the lake. One of the main concerns he has is blue-green algae, which can be fatal to animals and toxic to humans. Last year, several beaches around Chautauqua Lake were closed, due to blue-green algae concerns.
"Our ability to get out there and harvest the nuisance plants, helps the water flow. And, when water flows, you see less blue-green problems, because it's not stagnant," Conroe said. "Taking care of Chautauqua Lake is important aesthetically. It's important health-wise. And, it's a huge property base - 26 percent of the county's property taxes are related to Chautauqua Lake. So many people live and work in this area because they have the lake close by, it makes this area more attractive to live and work in."
For more information about the Chautauqua Lake Association, or to donate, visit ChautauquaLakeAssociation.org. Donations are also accepted in person or by mail at 429 E. Terrace Ave. in Lakewood.