- The Arts
- Recreation & Youth
It was never a question. There is simply nothing better on the Fourth of July than fireworks.
“I like the fireworks, but I’ve never seen them,” said 5-year-old Charlie Weber, an American flag hat fit snugly on his head. “I’ve heard about them though, and I’ll see them this year.”
Five-year-olds Harrison Koerner and Harrison Cornelius agreed.
“The fireworks are my favorite part,” both boys said.
Both Harrisons, Charlie and the rest of the kids from Children’s School brought their own explosive Independence Day celebration to the grounds Tuesday morning.
The revelry started with the 3s, 4s and 5s parading jubilantly down Pratt. Every so often, they would stop and loudly cheer “Happy Fourth of July!” or “USA, USA!” for the crowds that lined the street.
Rounding the corner of Bestor Plaza, the kids mounted the Colonnade steps.
There, for a smiling crowd that extended far onto the plaza lawn, they belted out tunes of freedom like “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and “This Land is Your Land.” But first, they introduced themselves with “The Children’s School Song,” the song that 4-year-old Galen Giroux likes singing most.
“The Children’s School song is my favorite song,” Galen said before launching into a solo rendition of the tune as he prepared for the parade.
With their faces and arms painted with American regalia, the kids cheered, sang, clapped and stomped the morning away on sunny Bestor Plaza.
For many of them, the best part of the Fourth didn’t come until the sun had set and fireworks were launched. But for those who witnessed the Children’s School celebration, the best part of the holiday may have come not long after the sun had risen.
While the sun beat down Wednesday on Sharpe Field, the competition was even hotter. Clubbers from Boys’ and Girls’ Club sang their hearts (and lungs) out to answer the challenge “So You Think You’re Louder Than an Opera Singer?”
The event was part of the Chautauqua Opera Company’s Opera Invasion program, aimed at bringing opera off the stage and into unique settings around the grounds.
Fourteen-year-old Aiden Rice, a semi-finalist last year, made it all the way to the finals this year.
“It’s entertaining because most of the time I have to be very quiet and I’m not allowed to scream,” he said. “Sometimes it’s good to just let it all out.”
With rain clouds looming above, Steve Holland pilots a hulking orange vessel across Chautauqua Lake before arriving in Dewittville Bay, where he begins to perform the work he does most days during summer: harvesting weeds.
“There’s a lot of weeds in this bay,” Holland said aboard one of the Chautauqua Lake Association’s aquatic plant harvesters Tuesday morning. “I’ll probably be here the rest of the week.”
The day’s operation came amid a pivotal time in controlling the lake’s excess vegetation. Several miles to the southeast in Bemus Bay, remnants from the application of herbicides the day before still lingered in the water.
Herbicides — chemicals used to control plants — were used in three spots in Bemus Bay on Monday as part of an effort by the Chautauqua Lake Partnership to manage invasive plants in the area. The last time herbicides were used in the lake was 2002.
The recent herbicide use came after the CLP, originally formed that year by residents annoyed with excess plants in the lake, applied for permits from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, first in April and later on June 19, 2017, according to the department. The permits were issued the next day.
The DEC permits allowed use of two kinds of herbicides, named Aquathol-K and Navigate, as part of a data collection project to evaluate their effectiveness on invasive weeds, DEC spokeswoman Megan Gollwitzer said.
“We’re trying to do something to introduce different techniques to take care of the weed and algae problem,” said CLP President Jim Cirbus.
The herbicide company SOLitude administered the application Monday, and the CLP placed signs around the lake warning residents to not use, fish in or swim in the water near Bemus Bay for 24 hours. The original DEC permits included such a warning that would last for 14 days, but the department later issued revised permits with the 24-hour warning.
In addition, the waters near the Institution were deemed safe for swimming Monday by the Chautauqua County Department of Health and Human Services, according to a letter from the department.
Such use of herbicides has been both applauded and denounced by residents, with some pointing to how the excess weeds inhibit boat use and others suggesting that the chemicals will hinder native plants and fish, among other problems.
When it comes to managing vegetation, though, the most visible effort remains that of the harvesters and other machines used by Holland and his colleagues in the CLA.
“We’ve gotta be able to get people around their docks so they can get in and out,” Holland said. “I mean, why have a boat on a lake if you can’t use it?”
As of Monday, the CLA had harvested about 2 million pounds of weeds, Holland said. The association, a nonprofit organization incorporated in 1953, uses six harvesters to collect plants throughout the lake, said Doug Conroe, executive director and former Chautauqua Institution director of operations.
“The machines cut off the top of the vegetation,” Conroe said. “Some people say it’s like mowing your lawn.”
The harvesters collect the excess plants and either drop them off at the shore or load them onto a transporter boat that does so, he said. The weeds are then moved via trucks to farms for use as compost.
Specifically, two invasive species of aquatic plants — also known as macrophytes — are problematic for the lake: curly leaf pondweed and Eurasian water milfoil, said Jan Bowman, biology professor at Jamestown Community College. Bowman has conducted research on aquatic plants in the lake since the early ’90s.
The plants, she said, create problems for recreation on the lake by limiting mobility around docks and wrapping around boat motors and propellers.
The only large-scale solution to that problem at the moment is mechanical harvesting, according to the Chautauqua Lake Macrophyte Management Strategy published in March. The plan includes strategies of how to “open the toolbox to a broader range of management options,” including herbicides.
The use of herbicides, though, raises questions for some about how its application could affect the environment, while others insist that risks are minimal.
“Our harvesting operation is able to control the nuisance growths, or manage the nuisance growths,” Conroe said. “We don’t see the need to do something more environmentally invasive.”
Why might the herbicides be harmful? Bowman said research she has both read and conducted show problems, which include harming native plants and destroying spawning beds for fish.
A study published in March titled “Lessons from a Decade of Lake Management,” for example, found that herbicide use is unpredictable and can harm native plants in some instances.
“As a whole, the lake is a very dynamic system with many smaller ecosystems in it,” Bowman said. “It’s hard to address it as one big body of water.”
But Bowman and Conroe both point to how herbicides might impact another problem in the lake: algae blooms.
Conroe said Chautauqua Lake is very rich in nutrients, such as phosphorus, and when too many nutrients exist, the cellular plant algae can form. As algae matures, water around it becomes harmful, he said, and it can become toxic in certain spots when the algae “blooms.”
“If you kill some stretches of these plants, the decomposition is going to add nutrients that feed algae,” Bowman said. “Several studies show this.”
Cirbus and others in the CLP, though, disagree that herbicides are harmful. The herbicides are specific to the species of invasive plants, he said, and shouldn’t harm the few native ones that have survived.
The group followed the DEC’s regulations “to the letter,” Cirbus said. The partnership also raised money for shoreline cleanups to reduce algae growths this summer.
“Too much is at stake,” he said. “Hopefully herbicides will be a thing of the future in conjunction with other methods.”
Back on the lake, though, Holland and others in the CLA will continue their harvesting operations across the lake throughout the summer.
“We get a lot of thank yous, very few complainers,” Holland said. “For the most part, it’s rewarding because you get some gratification out of it.”
With their first steps onto the grounds, Chautauquans can follow their own path and explore one of its four pillars, like a contemplative journey through a labyrinth. All kinds of people join hands and pray at the Peace Poles, meditate at Mystic Heart, and discover faith traditions beyond their own. From attending Islamic Jum’ah prayer, to praying the rosary at the Catholic House, or observing the Sabbath at the Zigdon Chabad Jewish House, everyone is encouraged to walk the spiritual path that is fitting for them. The pillar of religion remains as important today as it did at the founding of Chautauqua. Through lifelong learning, it is possible to find peace.
Playing sports with friends and neighbors is a tradition as longstanding and all-American as Chautauqua itself. The men’s and women’s recreational softball leagues, which play at Sharpe Field, are no exception.
In true Chautauqua fashion, many teams have family connections – mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, who play on the same teams as other relatives cheer from the sidelines. Often, the teams themselves become like families over the years as participants return, season after season.