Tucked in the woods behind the Chautauqua Golf Learning Center is a series of meandering trails. For a time, those trails were seldom used — but after three years of planning and work, the CHQ Trail has been revitalized and revamped, with clear paths and new play and art elements.
“It has not all been smooth sailing by any means, having to work through a pandemic, supply shortages, labor shortages, you name it, bad weather in the spring. We had a lot of hurdles that we had to get through to get to this point,” said Meg Pickard, director of recreation. “But we’re finally coming across the finish line.”
Pickard spoke at a ribbon-cutting event for the new CHQ Trail Sunday, July 17, attended by more than two dozen people, to celebrate the trail’s new look, made possible through a Play Everywhere Design Challenge grant, a program run by KABOOM!
“That’s KABOOM!, with all caps and an exclamation point — which I think says something about the enjoyment and the playfulness at the heart of this project,” said Geof Follansbee, senior vice president and chief advancement officer at Chautauqua.
The ultimate vision is a set of trails with interactive elements, and year-round events — an inaugural Mud Run is set for fall 2022. The grant challenges communities to submit creative ideas for public installations that help make play easy and accessible for kids and families.
“That is certainly what this brand new CHQ Trail is intended to do, and I know it will,” Follansbee said.
The CHQ Trail, accessible from an asphalt cart path leading out from the Golf Learning Center, is open every day to walkers, runners, cyclists and families. The revitalization of the trails has been an idea percolating with Alyssa Porter, director of youth and family programs, and Pickard since 2019.
“Before the pandemic, before I really even had a good foundation of my job here, it was exciting — we had a very small idea in mind originally, something that could be achieved in maybe three months,” Porter said. “And as we worked through this process, … we found the opportunity to think much bigger, to dream bigger, to start actualizing a plan that had already existed in Meg’s world.”
The trail highlights the culmination of a broad community effort; while initially constructed in spring and summer of 2021, more work remained, and Institution staff spent time volunteering last fall to clean and line whole portions of the various trails.
“Reaching a major milestone like this can only be achieved through incredible teamwork,” Pickard said. “I am honored to work alongside some of the best in their respective fields here at Chautauqua.”
The ribbon-cutting allowed for the community to come together and celebrate, while also leaving their own mark on the trail, as they were invited to place dozens of clay bird figurines through the trails, created by local artist Leslie Calimeri, proprietor of the Chautauqua Art Gallery in Jamestown.
“Leslie has created these beautiful bird sculptures that will live throughout the trail as a part of the whimsy, free exploration and discovery idea that brings play and art together,” Porter said.
Calimeri and wood sculptor John Stow worked on the art and play elements as a collaborative project. Artistic elements scattered around the trail include flowers and animal tracks hand-painted on rocks and burned into pieces of wood.
“Leslie started by creating the concept art and the vision that you could play through discovery and exploration by following animals through their habitats,” Porter said a few days after the ribbon-cutting. “John was initially brought onto the project to work on the wood pieces, including the animal sculptures that currently mark each habitat area.”
Reflecting more, Porter said the ribbon-cutting symbolizes only the beginning of an ever-changing project.
“With the ribbon-cutting to open the CHQ Trail, we hope this unveiling is a celebration of just an early phase of this project,” Porter said. “The vision for the trail is built on growth, change and the impact of community.”