Wild America Nature Festival


Contributing Writer
Paul Leone

What better venue to host a paean to wild America than the lovely grounds and wild dramatic backdrop of Panama Rocks? The Rocks, rising out of lush forestland, some of which remains old growth, are reputed to be the most extensive glacier cut, ocean quartz conglomerate in the world. The former Rocks Hotel, now home to the Weston family, has been restored lovingly and the wide open field adjacent has been meticulously maintained in preparation for this year’s Wild America Nature Festival. The festival is scheduled for the approaching weekend, July 29 and 30 from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM both days.

The Wild America Nature Festival will again feature the popular animal handlers Jungle Terry and bird of prey flight demonstrator/falconer Jonathon Clarkson. Jungle Terry, an Indiana Jones look alike, will present up close and in-your-face contacts with a variety of wild animals including fearsome cuddly reptiles all raised by himself and his children. “The animals are mostly visited by children,” says Jungle Terry. “That’s why I felt it important that my children train them.” His program will last up to an hour and include twelve to fifteen animals.

Jonathon Clarkson is an instructor at the American Hawkeye School of Falconry. The school is situated on a ridge in Ellicottville surrounded by old growth forest. Falconry is the ancient art of hunting wild animals in their natural state and habitat by means of birds of prey. Jonathon’s birds will fly unrestrained over the grounds and return to him at his beck and call. The Family Falconry Experience will delight naturalists, nature photographers and bird nerds.

Craig and Sandi Weston purchased the Panama property in 1979. The property has been privately owned and operated since 1885. The Weston home on the property was once the Rocks Hotel consisting of thirteen private rooms. Jonathon Weston, Craig and Sandi’s son, who was raised on the site, now oversees operations.

The Wild America Nature Festival is an educational as well as an experiential enterprise. The festival was inaugurated in 2017 in collaboration with the Roger Tory Peterson Institute. “Roger’s book Wild America was the inspiration,” says Jonathon Weston. Wild America, first published in 1955 and coauthored with Peterson’s British friend James Fisher, an authority on sea birds, is the record of a thirty thousand mile epic natural adventure. In 1953 the two traveled around the continent to study birds. Together with Dr. Twan Leenders, who served as RTPI’s Director of Science and Conservation, Jonathon conceived and planned the festival as an annual celebration of the natural world. The collaboration continued for three years until the Covid epidemic necessitated a temporary halt to the event. Twan Leenders is an accomplished herpetologist and photographer. He will present a lecture entitled Combining Conservation and Recreation for a Greener Future on Saturday at 1:00 PM at the festival.

The festival will feature a Nature Art and Craft Show. Approximately thirty-five regional artists and master crafters, many who have received national and international recognition for their art, will present their work as vendors in a wide variety of media. Items include painting and illustration, jewelry, ceramics, woodworking, glass art, metal working and more. Experienced collectors as well as those searching for the perfect one-of-a-kind gift are encouraged to browse the merchandise.

Popular area musicians Mark Davis and Steve Eng will provide music both afternoons. The duo perform often in outdoor venues including Allegany State Park and the Jamestown Public Market. The two finished gigs at the Quaker Run Amphitheatre on July 16 and on Third Street last Saturday. Davis and Eng perform folk music, blues, Country and light Jazz.

The festival is, of course, the perfect opportunity to explore the labyrinthine trails, crevices and cliffs, likely haunts for the myriad folk characters: crooks, desperadoes and such that have long frequented the Rocks in the folk imagination. That folklore has contributed to the deserved reputation of the Rocks.

Panama Rocks has been a desirable destination for tourists and residents alike from its origin in1885. It was that year that the oldest state park in the nation (Niagara Falls) was also established. The Rocks themselves date from the Devonian period 350 t0 400 million years ago. At that time most of the area that forms modern day Western New York and Pennsylvania and parts of eastern Ohio was a shallow inland sea. The muddy water covered sand flats and salt meadows whose sediment over glacial time compacted to form the material called today “quartz-conglomerate.” The Rocks are majestic. One feels diminutive among them.

Programming begins each day with homage to the natural world through words of Thanksgiving from Onondaga Wisdom Keeper Eli Thomas.

For a full schedule of events visit www.wildamericefest.com or facebook.com/wildamericanaturefestival.

Panama Rocks
11 Rock Hill Road
Panama, NY
716 703-0021

NB: Due to the presence of wild animals on the grounds pets are not permitted on the premises during the festival.