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Cassadaga Lakes, in New York's Chautauqua-Allegheny Region, have attracted a diverse group of residents over the years. Cassadaga is a Native American word meaning 'water under the rocks' and describes the unique hydrology of the region. The three small connected lakes are home to two towns and a number of lakeshore residents who enjoy the peaceful nature of the wooded shoreline and the excellent habitat that supports a variety of wildlife. The extensive wetlands provide optimum spawning grounds for the bass and panfish that attract anglers both winter and summer.
The three lakes, usually called Upper Cassadaga, Middle Cassadaga and Lower Cassadaga Lake, provide about 217 acres of water surface and almost five miles of shoreline, much of it still in its natural state. An all-sports area, the lakes allow motor boats for residents and visitors to enjoy water skiing, tubing, canoeing, kayaking and pontooning, although the contiguous surface areas are a bit small for sailing and sail sports. The Town of Cassadaga on the south shore of Lower Cassadaga Lake provides a public park with picnic area, playground and swim area with lifeguard for a small fee. A marina nearby rents motor boats, canoes and kayaks and sells fishing supplies. A public boat launch on Middle Cassadaga Lake provides a place for visiting fishermen to get out on the water of all three connected lakes.
Fishing is one of the main attractions at Cassadaga Lakes, with largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, walleye, muskellunge, grass pickerel, white sucker, brown bullhead, pumpkinseed, bluegill, yellow perch and black crappie offering a variety of opportunities to fill the creel. In an effort to produce more trophy-size bass, the State of New York has imposed a unique 'slot limit' on the size of bass that can be kept: fish between 12 and 15 inches must be released, although those smaller and larger may be kept. This assures that more fish will have the chance to become larger and offers the sport fisherman an opportunity to land a bass with bragging rights. The chain of lakes sometimes hosts fishing tournaments. Panfish are the usual target of most fishermen on the chain, with bluegill a favorite in summer and perch through the ice in winter. Walleyes are not numerous in the lakes, but 'muskie' are planted regularly by the New York Department of Environmental Conservation. Several small 'resort cabin' establishments on and near the lake are available year-round to accommodate ice fishermen, hunters and snowmobilers.
Only about 10 miles from the shores of Lake Erie, Cassadaga Lakes are about 10 miles northeast of more famous Chautauqua Lake. Spring fed, the Cassadaga Lakes are glacial 'pot-hole' lakes left over from the last receding glacier. Once a large lake covered much of the Cassadaga Valley; all that remains are the three connected lakes and nearby Bear Lake. Geologists report that the ancient lake still exists underground, filling the spaces within the underlying gravel deposited by the glacier. The area is filled with artesian springs, giving rise to the 'water under the rocks' name that identifies the entire Cassadaga Creek and Valley. The aquifer supplies several deep wells at the south end of the valley which provide the main water source for the City of Jamestown.
Although very close to the Great Lakes, a high ridge actually prevents the outflow of water from Cassadaga Lakes from reaching Lake Erie. Instead, the Cassadaga Creek waters eventually drain to the south, into the Ohio River drainage system. Cassadaga Creek is a popular canoe and kayak route, and the creek's course supports Cassadaga Creek Preserve, a 125-acre wetland and floodplain forest a few miles south of the lakes. An extensive network of groomed snowmobile trails in the area attract snowmobilers, cross-country skiers and hikers.
Cassadaga Lakes saw its first recorded permanent European residents near the turn of the 19th century. By 1821, a small dam had been built across the outlet to the lakes to power a sawmill and grist mill. An epidemic within the next couple of years convinced local residents that the change in the water levels was causing their illness, and the dam was removed. Shortly after, a keelboat route to the lake was established along Cassadaga Creek. The boat only made a couple of trips however, before an attempt to clean out the channel between the lakes lowered the water level enough to interfere with navigation. The town of Cassadaga continued to grow, but the only water-based venture to succeed was an ice shipping business which cut and shipped ice during the cold New York winters.
Cassadaga Lakes' second town arrived in the form of a Spiritualist camp. The camp established during the popular heyday of the mediumistic Christian sect eventually became Lily Dale, one of the largest Spiritualist settlements in the United States. Now an established hamlet of nearly 300 residents, the registered mediums, retreat services and spiritual activities of the town attract about 22,000 visitors each year. Lily Dale owns a small wooded trail area that holds one of the best local examples of old-growth trees in the area. A number of hotel-type rental units are available at Lily Dale, which also operates a campground/RV park. Several bed-and-breakfasts and resort cabin businesses operate on the lake here; at least one is year-round. Lily Dale offers several guest house rentals in lovely Victorian homes built during the Spiritualism period of growth around 1900. Headquarters of The National Spiritualist Association of Churches, an interesting museum on the site, offers a glimpse into the history of the movement and a clarification of their beliefs which have brought comfort to thousands in their bereavement.
Cassadaga Lakes are only an hour or so west of Buffalo, about 10 miles south of Dunkirk and 20 miles north of Jamestown. A popular vacation area, the entire Lake Erie shoreline is dotted with wineries and attracts visitors for tours and wine-tasting events in season. Real estate can be found for sale along the shore of Cassadaga Lakes, but the supply is limited. It's easy to see why the chain of lakes is so popular: close to the cities yet about as country as you can get in far-western New York State. So, come for a week-end, or a week or a month. You'll fall in love with the solitude, the wildlife and the fishing. Cassadaga Lakes is waiting for you. What are you waiting for?
*statistics are a composite of the three lake basins. Both Middle Cassadaga and Lower Cassadaga lakes are occasionally called Lily Dale Lake, although not officially.
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