Getting to Dann Lake in Amherst requires parking in an unmarked gravel and asphalt lot and slogging about a quarter-mile through thick brush along a muddy path. Only the footprints of previous visitors guide you to a picturesque, rarely used lake that can't be seen from the road.
On a recent morning, the 22-acre lake, which is shaped like a horseshoe, shimmered under bright sunshine and blue skies. The only signs of life there were the croaking of a bullfrog, the tweeting of birds and dragonflies dancing on the surface.
No one was using the lake during the 90 minutes a Buffalo News reporter and photographer visited it.
The Town of Amherst, which owns the lake and the surrounding Dann Lake Park, wants to change that. The town is proposing to spend up to $255,000 to make it easier for the public to get to the park and fish, kayak or canoe on the lake.
"It's hard, it's bad, it's not easy," Robert C. Walter, a senior landscape architect in the town's Planning Department, said of access to the lake.
People who recently visited the park hidden in the northeast corner of the town welcomed the news of the planned improvements.
"I'm all in favor of it," said Joe Farage, who lives in Dockside Village, an apartment and townhome complex near the lake's northeast shore. "I think it's a good use of our tax money."
The town's only improvement to the park since it obtained the land in 2003 is a modest parking area off of Dann Road, which runs between Transit and Smith roads. The parking area, which now is home to a discarded picture tube TV, is located near where Dann Road crosses Black Creek. There's no sign at the parking lot indicating it is an entrance to Dann Lake Park.
During the spring and summer, the vegetation and the leaves on the trees are so thick that Dann Lake can't be seen from the parking area.
Visitors trudge through overgrown grass and weeds, push aside tree branches and try to avoid stepping in mud puddles before getting to the lake.
The town acquired the land from Anthony Cutaia, the developer of Dockside Village. The development is a mix of apartment buildings and townhomes. Construction taking place now on the final 244 apartment units will bring the complex to a total of 520 units of housing, Cutaia said.
Cutaia said he bought the land that became Dann Lake Park and Dockside Village from the developer who built the nearby Ransom Oaks housing development and Glen Oak Golf Course. The land around the lake was intended to serve as the next phase of Ransom Oaks, but that was never built. Cutaia kept 100 acres for his housing complex and turned over 123 acres for the park property to the town.
"I think, in the end, it's been very nice to have," Cutaia said.
A portion of the park is a wetland mitigation area that the state Department of Environmental Conservation required the developer to put in place.
A trip over to Dockside Village found residents who use the lake but say it's difficult to get to. Dockside Village has its own access road from the complex, but even that can be tricky, Farage said.
Farage, the retired owner of Buffalo Printing Co. and Mr. Copy, had a few fishing poles leaning against one side of the garage of his townhome and said he would break them out if the town makes its planned improvements.
The plans include:
- Building a 10-foot-wide boardwalk trail that would run from the Dann Road parking lot to the edge of the lake and from the parking area along the edge of the wetlands.
- Building an 8-foot-wide stone dust trail that would run along the south edge of the lake and loop back to connect with the boardwalk trail and the parking area.
- Constructing a 14-space parking area.
- Installing a canoe and kayak launch and fishing platform at the southeast corner of the lake.
The improvements don't include a shelter or gazebo, but they could include benches along the boardwalk, Walter said. "We're still early in the design process," he said.
Jim and Denise Murphy have an inflatable boat with an electric motor that they say they would use on the lake more often if it was easier to get there.
"It's a beautiful piece of property, but it's relatively unused, except by the die-hards," said Jim Murphy, as they walked their dog, a Havanese named Rascal. "It's really an unknown and unused gem."
The Town Board approved borrowing up to $255,000 on the park improvements as part of the town's capital improvement program, said Eric Gillert, the town's planning director.
The work on the project still must be put out to bid, Gillert said, and the Planning Board must approve the site plan for the improvements. Work would start in the fall at the earliest.
Nearly all of the large lakes in the town are on private property, so town officials wanted to ensure residents could access one of the few that is open to the public, Walter said. He said the town doesn't keep track of how many people use the park now, but he is optimistic more people will use the park if the work is done.
"If we didn't think that, we wouldn't do this," he said.
The town Highway Department also soon will put up a sign for the park at the parking area.