Close To Home: Making The Most Of Summer

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Contributing Writer
Margot Hanrahan

They say the sun at home warms better than the sun elsewhere. This is true of our Southern Tier. Everyone knows the summer is our time to shine, and since it’s hard to find this kind of charm and lovely weather elsewhere, most of us like to stay put in the summer season. This is what we’ve all been waiting for.

This summer, in particular, feels special. Festivals that were on hiatus during Covid are back on the calendar. Old traditions are making a comeback and so this summer is destined to feel like the summers we all love and remember.

Festivals and yearly events are a time-honored tradition in our region. The Scandinavian Folk Festival is back July 16-17 at the Northwest Arena in Jamestown. Don’t miss the Norseman Viking Ship sailing up the Chadakoin River on July 15, starting at the McCrea Boat Landing or the two days of dancing, pole decorating, singing, crafts and contests. SmörgåsBandet will perform early Saturday evening for visitors elbow deep into Swedish meatballs and Carlsberg beer.

Everybody is a cowboy at the Gerry Rodeo being held on August 3-6, and for some, summer just isn’t summer without being a spectator of bareback bronc riding, tie down roping, and barrel racing. There’s lots of activities for the kids—funny clowns and calf scrambles, but the barbecue is loved by everyone. This is the rodeo’s 77th year; it’s the oldest consecutive rodeo east of the Mississippi. We’re part of history.

The Saint James Italian Festival will be back on Allen Street on July 23, and for many, a summer without a visit to the Blue Heron Music Festival isn’t worthy of being called summer. This year, the popular music festival takes place on July 1-3, with its fan favorites in the lineup as well as some new bands to help shake things up for two days of camping and good music. People come from across the country to experience this event, now in it’s 30th year.

One more reason to love the Irish is the Celtic Festival, held in Mayville this year Friday and Saturday starting August 26. Join your fellow clansmen and raise your glass to a day that features both Celtic and pipe bands from two countries and three states. Learn something new about Scottish and Irish culture and dancing. There’s more to the day than the beer and wine garden.

And for family events: don’t miss the Chautauqua County Fair—back after two years. What’s a summer without a fair? There’s a non-stop lineup of events, and while some people are only there for the cotton candy and fried Oreos, the doers will enjoy the tractor pull, harness racing, and demolition derby. For kids this year: a Power Wheels car show, and a host of mini stage events and all the usual farm animals. The fair runs from the 19-24 of July at the fairgrounds on Central Avenue in Dunkirk.

Why not mix up the places you spend time enjoying the water? Take a dip at the swimming hole at Chautauqua Gorge, or head to one of the weekly concerts on the pier in Dunkirk on Lake Erie. When is the last time you searched for sea glass? Head to Barcelona on Lake Erie.

Our region’s hills and woods offer both adventure and beauty. Panama Rocks, and it’s prehistoric landscape, is a popular natural venue in Chautauqua County. But new this fall: Panama Rocks will host “glamping,” by providing fully furnished luxury tents for an unbeatable camping experience.

Another favorite for family adventure is the Chautauqua Gorge, with its infamous swimming hole, natural waterfalls, and trails. Access is found at the very end of Hannum Road in Mayville. Park your car and take the downhill trail to the creek bed.

Here’s a few places we take for granted: Allegheny State Park offers unlimited outdoor activity, including camping in rustic cabins, hiking, biking, fishing and paddling. Holiday Valley Resort near Ellicotville offers paddle boarding, an aerial adventure course through the trees, and gem mining. Also, the Allehany Natural Forest in Bradford, Pa. has a host of events this summer season. Think about the Summer Wine Walk on July 23, or the Renegade Monster Truck Tour on July 30th. Mountain adventures and a pool and play zone round out the offerings at Peek and Peak Resort this summer season near Findley Lake.

For long-time locals, there’s nothing more nostalgic than Midway State Park. Several of the amusement rides were enjoyed by the grandparents of today’s locals when they were kids. But Midway is always adding to the fun with new rides, new arcades and activities like face painting and magic shows. It’s also a great place for a family picnic.

We should all say we’ve been to the new Seneca-Iroquois Museum in Salamanca. Highlighting the area’s Native American history, the 33,000 square foot museum comes alive with artifacts, special collections and exhibits. The star of the museum is the longhouse, which is a replica of a Native American home.

It goes without saying that the National Comedy Center tops everyone’s entertainment list and this summer’s lineup of events is guaranteed to keep you laughing. The Center is the first non-profit cultural institution dedicated to comedy and was recently honored with USA Today’s distinction of being one of the top ten new museums in the country. The Lucille Ball Comedy Fest takes place August 3-7, with comic legends like Margaret Cho and Jeff Foxworthy taking center stage. Don’t miss out on Legends of SNL, with David Spade, Rob Schneider and Kevin Nealon reliving the glory days of Saturday Night Live on August 6th. The lineup of Lucy Fest activities offers something for everyone: movies under the stars, Lucy bus tours, an afternoon on the Chautauqua Belle, and more.

And, summer is delicious here with our farm-fresh foods and local products. Farmers markets abound in every town and village. Of note this year is the Fredonia Farm Festival August 26-28, as well as the Westfield Farmers Market held every Saturday through the fall. Jamestown and Lakewood also have farm markets each week. If you’re into picking your own fruit, strawberries, blueberries, peaches and apples are up for grabs at local U-Pick farms. Try the Blueberry Patch on Carpenter Pringle Road in Asheville.

The undisputed heart of Chautauqua Lake is Bemus Point—the lakeside village that hosts a handful of good restaurants, great shops and the infamous Casino. The three lakeside dining establishments in Bemus offer live entertainment throughout the summer months, along with prized local beer selections. And no one can claim to have mastered summer without sitting in a rocking chair on the Hotel Lenhart porch, a drink in hand, watching the sun setting in the west. Bemus Point gives our region its feel of timelessness and no summer is complete without a visit there no matter how many times you’ve been there before.

The lineup of concerts at Chautauqua Institution may encourage you to stake out tickets. Lyle Lovett and Sheryl Crow are just two of this year’s performers making lots of wish lists.

Wine tastings and festivals abound in wine country near Westfield, and Westfield itself is a lovely way to spend a day. A host of new and interesting restaurants and shops, wineries on the wine trail and some great antiquing are a few of the reasons Westfield has become a popular destination in Chautauqua County. It’s fair to call Westfield’s newfound popularity something of a renaissance.

Why not head to Buffalo for a local craft brew, a walk along the new and exciting waterfront or one of their great museums?

What’s the best way to enjoy the season without leaving or going too far out of town? Pick a few activities, a few concerts, a day trip or two and put them on your list. It’s a jam-packed summer, but we all know the days of summer are fleeting. Make it your mission to do it well.