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The Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau commemorated the 10th Anniversary of the opening of the I-86 Rest Area Visitor and Information Center with a luncheon for volunteers at the Athenaeum Hotel at Chautauqua Institution on Thursday. The I-86 Rest Area Visitor and Information Center opened in May 2005 through the efforts of the New York State Department of Transportation, Chautauqua County, and the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau. Since then, a core group of approximately 30 volunteers, many from the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (R.S.V.P.), and Manager Michael Barnes have staffed the Visitor and Information Center seven days a week throughout the year. Two of the volunteers at the luncheon, Evelyn Hurlburt and John Swanson, have been actively volunteering since its opening in 2005.
Andrew Nixon, director of the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau, welcomed guests, Lisa Vanstrom, representing NYS Senator Catherine Young, NYS Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, Chautauqua County Executive Vince Horrigan, and Darrell Kaminski, regional director of the NYS Department of Transportation. Nixon also thanked Craig Mozrall, special projects manager with the NYSDOT, Dwight Mateer, regional utilities manager with the NYSDOT, and Richard Babbage, former Chautauqua County Legislator, who were instrumental in developing the Rest Area Visitor and Information Center in 2005.
Following the luncheon, Lisa Vanstrom read a proclamation from Senator Young commemorating Michael H. Barnes for 10 years of service at the Chautauqua Lake Rest Area. Assemblyman Goodell then spoke about the 400,000 visitors who have been assisted by volunteers over the last 10 years and the positive impact that has had on Chautauqua County as well as New York State. He stated, “35% of people who stop at the Rest Area are first time visitors”, adding that “65% are repeat visitors.” Goodell especially thanked volunteers for their efforts in staffing the Center throughout difficult winters. Elizabeth Rankin, a member of Goodell’s staff and a Chautauqua County Legislator, commented on how the Rest Area has become a destination for visitors, a place to take family and friends to watch the sunset, have a picnic, and let the kids run around.
Stories about the volunteering experience circulated amongst attendees. An often cited comment was how many times visitors declare that the Chautauqua Lake Rest Area is the “most beautiful” and the “cleanest” rest area they have ever seen, a sentiment affirmed by each of the speakers. Volunteers talked of meeting visitors from as far away as Russia, Spain, China and Germany. The Rest Area facility has also played host to wedding ceremonies, receptions, first dates, and is an excellent spot to watch fireworks over the lake. Cornelia Hennon, a volunteer since 2007, summed up the experience, saying, “volunteering at the Rest Area is like going to a different world. You stop feeling regional and become part of something bigger.” A recent e-mail from a rest area visitor affirmed the positive impact volunteers are having, thanking CCVB for “the courtesy extended to (him) during a conversation with one of the representatives. She certainly went out of the way to provide me with as much information as possible. I am confident her extra effort will have a major positive impact on the trip I am planning in your area.”
The Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau recognizes Rest Area Volunteers for their efforts at luncheons held three times each year. For more information about the Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau or volunteering at the Chautauqua Lake Rest Area Information Center, call 716-357-4569.