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Cool breezes and a welcoming expanse of water greet residents and their guests at Rushford Lake. This reservoir in New York's Chautauqua-Allegheny region has many seasonal cottages and year-round homes along its five-mile shoreline set amid treed slopes. All types of boats, including sailboats, ski boats, pontoons and canoes tie up to the private docks jutting out from the shore. Located 60 miles southeast of Buffalo, Rushford Lake is easily accessible, yet remote enough to maintain a rustic ambience within its quiet neighborhoods.
The lake is ideal for sailing, water skiing, jet skiing, swimming and windsurfing. No boats over 21 feet except for pontoons are permitted on the lake. A gated boat launch site maintained by the Rushford Lake Recreation District allows boat launching for non-residents who pay a fee. However, there are no public parks or beaches along the shoreline. Some of the housing developments provide a park and beach for their residents, and residents may purchase an annual key to the gate for 24-hour access. All property owners have rights to the lake, with back-lot owners in most developments having the right to install docks along portions of the shoreline.
The controlled access is one reason Rushford Lake has not experienced problems with invasive species. Residents' boats must be registered, and all outside boats are inspected by Rushford Lake Landowners' Association during open hours. As other lakes in the area have begun to experience unwanted vegetation problems, the lake association and the elected Board have strengthened rules controlling access and zealously monitor water quality.
The clear water holds a good selection of panfish such as yellow perch, bluegill, crappie, smallmouth bass and walleye along with stocked brown and rainbow trout that thrive in the cool deep waters. Shore fishing is allowed near the dam where there is a small boat launch site and picnic area. Ice fishing is not permitted, because the lake is drawn down about 40 feet in winter to protect docks from ice damage.
Allegany County has several well-known scenic tour routes that people enjoy for the spectacular autumn color. Two cycling routes skirt the edges of the lake, and a private campground greets visitors on the southwest end near the Village of Rushford. This area of New York is famous for its extensive snowmobile trails. The area also offers snowboarding, skiing, snowshoeing and sledding. Local streams are excellent trout fisheries, and the Genesee River a few miles to the east offers lovely waterfalls, whitewater rafting and plenty of wildlife viewing. The Town of Caneadea on the Genesee River features numerous local artisans and craftspeople. The famous Finger Lakes are less than an hour away, as are the wineries the area is known for. Antiques and farm markets are found nearly everywhere, and bald eagles are often sighted near the lake.
Rushford Lake didn't start out as a recreational lake. A dam was built across the junction of Rush Creek and Caneadea Creek in 1927 by Rochester Gas and Electric to generate electricity. The new Caneadea Dam was named for the same Native American word as the creek, and means "where the heavens rest on earth." Area residents apparently agreed with that description, with the likely exception of the small settlement of East Rushford, which disappeared beneath the rising waters. The new lakefront property proved attractive to many people, and several real estate developments plotted out sections of the surrounding area above the high water line. By 1940, the lakefront was a thriving community with many small businesses and local service providers meeting the daily needs of a growing population. The Rushford Lake Landowners' Association was already busy planning activities, arranging for essential services, and staging community events.
Over time, the lake and dam became less useful to the power utility, and there was talk of dismantling the dam. The Rushford Lake Landowners' Association sprang into action to save the lake. Dedicated volunteers worked with Rochester Gas and Electric and local, county and state officials to find a way to preserve the lake and their way of life. In 1981, the plan came to fruition with a unique Special Recreation District being approved by the New York State legislature. The new Rushford Lake Recreation District Board of Commissioners is an elected 5-member board that oversees all lake activities, contracts for such things as dam maintenance and repair, and acts as the official legal, planning and operations arm of the newly private lake community.
The successful experiment that is Rushford Lake is well worth a visit any time of year. Lodgings on the lake are limited, so make plans early to rent a vacation cottage or home. Luckily, the area provides many small inns, bed & breakfasts, motels, hotels and other lodgings. Visitors will also find unique restaurants, diners, shopping and other services close to the lake.
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