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Battling to save Long Point, a 'hidden jewel' under siege

LONG POINT STATE PARK – Every year, a large oak tree fights nature to keep Long Point’s head above Chautauqua Lake’s waves.

New York State is about to toss it a life-ring.

A half-million dollar project to strengthen Long Point’s eroding shoreline and rehabilitate its state park is scheduled to begin this fall.

The project plans to restore and protect about 1,650  feet of shoreline on the west side of this state park near Bemus Point by armoring it with a combination of heavy rocks, live stakes and native plants. The state’s Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation also plans to create a brand new beach and volleyball court to attract more visitors to this serene nook on Chautauqua Lake’s eastern shore.

“It’s a hidden jewel,” said Tom Ennis, Long Point’s park manager.

But a disappearing one.

A retreating glacier left behind this quarter-mile long claw-shaped peninsula when it carved out Chautauqua Lake thousands of years ago. But ice scouring, wind-blown waves and wakes behind recreational motor boats have been erasing Long Point in recent years.

“Significant area has been lost over time due to these occurrences,” said Jay Bailey, regional director of state parks.

How much?

“That is hard to quantify, but the point has noticeably eroded,” Bailey said. “If unchecked, steady annual losses would continue.”

This grassy area in front of the large white-bricked bathhouse at Long Point State Park will be turned into a sandy beach, according to plans by the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

Because of the severity of the erosion, reintroducing natural habitat around the point wouldn’t be able to sufficiently withstand the constant punishment from ice and waves, he said.

So, large rocks will armor the shoreline in spots most prone to erosion like those at the tip of the point itself and near the park’s beach.

Softer “green shoreline” restoration techniques designed to improve the natural diversity of the shoreline and its ecological habitat can be used in other spots.

South of the beach area, Bailey said erosion control mats will be affixed to the shoreline along with live stakes and other plantings like tree cuttings from willows and other moisture-thriving vegetative species. Coconut fiber logs will also be anchored along the edge of the water, he said.

“The live stakes and plantings will provide a models level of improved habitat for some species, but more importantly, the project will protect existing wildlife habitat from future losses that may occur due to erosion,” Bailey said.

It’s been a big concern in recent years.

“We were about to lose the point itself,” Ennis said. “And, this being such a narrow point, the boat wakes here exacerbate the problem.”

Armoring the point will be a valuable step toward protecting this spot into the future for hikers and bicycle riders like Alex Reinbolt of Beamus Point.

“That’s great,” Reinbolt said. “I love this park, its view of the lake and the sun reflecting off the water.”

Parks officials hope the work – combined with some of the planned recreational improvements – helps enhance visitors’ experience at the park, including at the beach, trails and other areas.

This small sand beach at Long Point State Park will be covered over by grass and plants and a new larger beach will be created, according to plans by state parks officials. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

The enhanced recreational areas include the replacement of a small – roughly 30-by-80 foot beach area – with a much larger sand beach, about 100 yards long by 40-feet wide, at the foot of the park’s bathhouse. A fitted stone wall will enclose the beach area with timber edging on the bathhouse side steps down to Chautauqua Lake on the water side of the beach.

Plans also call for moving the park’s existing volleyball court onto the southern end of the new sand beach.

“The project will enhance the patron experience at the beach, including the playground and other recreational areas,” Bailey said.

Construction is expected to be done in time for the summer swimming season in 2018.

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