By Jonathan Weston
Chautauqua County is for Nature Lovers! The beautiful rolling hills, lakes, streams, and forests of Chautauqua County that inspired a young Roger Tory Peterson on his journey to become the preeminent naturalist of the 20th Century continue to inspire naturalists and nature lovers today. Whether you are new to the area or have hiked the region’s trails for years, you are sure to find an amazing place to visit on the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau website section on Nature Attractions. Some of the highlights on this list include our local lakes, Panama Rocks Scenic Park, the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History, and the Jamestown Audubon Center and Sanctuary.
Bordered by 50 miles of coastline along Lake Erie, Chautauqua County is home to amazing shoreline and beaches as well as four inland lakes (Chautauqua, Cassadaga, Findley, Bear) and many other ponds and streams. In Lake Erie, deep water fishing yields trophy size walleye and smallmouth bass while the lake’s inlets are excellent for fly fishing in spring and fall. The inland lakes are exceptional for walleye, bass, muskellunge and pan fish. Chautauqua County has much to offer whether you are on or to the water for fishing, watersports, or relaxation.
Panama Rocks Scenic Park is consistently one of the top-rated attractions in Chautauqua County – and Western New York for that matter! Guests explore a half-mile long ridge of 60-foot high rock forming crevices, passageways, and caves hidden in an old growth forest. The formations at Panama Rocks are surrounded by a one mile long hiking trail, but most guests enjoy going off of the main trail to explore. Panama Rocks is perfect for families, couples, or individuals looking to spend time in nature. Whether you take a casual hike in the woods or climb through the countless passageways, caves, and crevices, how much you do is up to you. The park has a number of new information signs and a fun treasure hunt for kids of all ages. Visitors spend anywhere from one hour to the entire day having fun and exploring the park. Panama Rocks is open daily from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM from early May through late October. Picnic tables are available, so bring a lunch and enjoy your day.
The Peterson Field Guides have sold millions of copies and, almost twenty years after Roger Tory Peterson’s death, continue to be a staple on any naturalist’s book shelf. Peterson’s legacy of connecting people across the world with the beauty and intrinsic value of nature in their own backyards is alive and well at the Roger Tory Peterson Institute of Natural History (RTPI). At RTPI visitors can see some of Peterson’s work as well as exhibits of local, national, and internationally renowned artists. RTPI is currently featuring the works of John and Suzie Seerey-Lester in an exhibit entitled “Keeping the World Wild” – open until August 28th. With work hanging at the White House and in permanent, private, and Museum collections throughout the world, John Seerey-Lester has become one of the most renowned of today’s wildlife and historic artists. This fall, following the Seerey-Lester exhibition, RTPI presents “Rainforest Adventures”, featuring original works by artist Jan Lutz of Cambridge Springs, PA. On view from September 9 – November 13, Jan’s rainforest theme will be depicted through original oil paintings of tropical birds, landscapes, and more. Jan’s love of the natural world has deepened through exploration of the rural areas surrounding her home as well as through travels around the U.S. and Latin America. She is an avid supporter of several conservation groups and strives to increase the public’s awareness and appreciation of the natural world through her work. Some of Jan’s most recent exhibitions are Artists for Conservation International Exhibit, Vancouver, B.C. (2014, 2015), Pennsylvania Watercolor Society 34th International Exhibition (2013), Pennsylvania Watercolor Society 31st International Exhibition (2010), and Paint America Top 100, National Parks (2009).
The Jamestown Audubon Nature Center is owned and operated by Jamestown Audubon Society, Inc. whose mission is to connect people to nature and promote environmentally responsible practices through education at its center & sanctuary, and in the community. Their facilities include over five miles of beautifully maintained trails on a 600-acre wetland preserve that includes a native tree arboretum and several educational gardens. Their three-story nature center building contains a nature store, a small collection of live animals including fish, reptiles and amphibians, and interactive displays that inform and engage visitors of all ages. Be sure to meet their non-releasable bald eagle named Liberty! The Audubon Center hosts a large number of talks, classes, and events throughout the year, including Audubon Days at Panama Rocks on August 6th and 7th (at Panama Rocks) and the Monarch Butterfly Festival on August 27th (at the Audubon Center).
See a map of nature attractions and hikes in Chautauqua County. For more attractions, beaches, trails and outdoor adventures, visit www.tourchautauqua.com. Just remember, as Roger Tory Peterson once said, “The more you look, the more you will see.” So what are you waiting for? Get outside and take a hike!