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nature & waterways

Last-minute catch nets North Tonawanda man $4,000 grand prize in OC Fishing Derby

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 21 August 2017 at 8:14 am

Photos by Tom Rivers

POINT BREEZE – John Vanhoff of North Tonawanda holds a 30-pound, 12-ounce Chinook salmon he caught on Sunday to win the $4,000 grand prize in the Orleans County Fishing Derby.

Vanhoff is pictured at the awards ceremony outside the Black North Inn. The big fish behind him is a 13-foot-long fish that was restored by the Medina FFA. The big fish, after being out of the public eye for a few years, has been busy this year, appearing at several local parades and festivals, promoting the county’s fishery.

Vanhoff caught his winning fish at 10:30 a.m. at the Niagara Bar. The derby closed at 1 p.m. That is the deadline for getting a fish to a weigh station.

Vanhoff made it to the Slippery Sinker in Olcott at 12:20 p.m. His fish was 3 ounces heavier than one caught by Keith Sheffield of Henrietta. Sheffield had been leading the derby since Aug. 12. Instead of $4,000, Sheffield won $500 for leading the salmon division.

Vanhoff has been there before, leading a derby only to knocked off the top of the leaderboard at the last minute.

“I’ve lost one before by one ounce,” Vanhoff, 48, said. “That’s the way it is. It’s what the scale says.”

Keith Sheffield of Henrietta holds a 30-pound, 9-ounce Chinook that led the derby for more than a week. He won $500 as the salmon division leader.

Vanhoff has been fishing Lake Ontario derbies for more than 20 years. He has won the Orleans County Fishing Derby before, back when the grand prize was $3,500.

He caught his big salmon Sunday with cut bait – a piece of herring. He had the bait 75 feet down in about 90 feet of water. It took about 15 minutes to reel in the big fish.

Vanhoff said he has been fishing seriously for more than 20 years, with a 39-pounder his biggest salmon ever. He said he’s caught ten that topped 30 pounds.

“Thirty-pounders are hard to come by,” he said.

The derby often attracts 600 to 700 entries, but only had 376 this time. The derby started Aug. 5 with rough waters that limited the fishing. But marina owners said the bad press about the high lake levels has scared off many fishermen from being on the lake. Many of the boat launches are still open and the fishing has been good, anglers said Sunday at the awards program.

However, the bad press is hurting the marinas and keeping many people from getting out on the lake.

The Orleans County Fishing Derby has been run by the Albion Rotary Club for 35 years. Bill Downey is the chairman. Derby organizers considered cancelling this year’s derby, but decided to continue because many of the marinas and boat launches are still open.

The derby committee wants to help promote the fishery and give the marinas a boost during a tough year. Despite a big decrease in participants, Downey said the Rotary Club should still clear a small profit that will be used for other community projects.

The derby gave out $8,800 in total prizes, including $500 for the division winners, which include:

  • Chinook salmon: 30 pounds, 9 ounces – Keith Sheffield of Henrietta.
  • Rainbow trout/steelhead: 15 pounds, 14 ounces – Robert Griffith, Copley, Ohio.
  • Brown trout: 14 pounds, 3 ounces – Bill Cole of Albion.
  • Lake trout: 17 pounds, 10 ounces – Dan DeGeorge of Rochester.

Forest Miller of Holley won the $200 bonus award given to the Orleans County resident who catches the biggest fish. Miller reeled in a 26-pound, 9-ounce Chinook.

To see the full leaderboard, click here.

Here are more photos of some of the leading fish from the derby:

Bill Cole of Albion won the brown trout division with this 14-pound, 3-ounce trout.

Jason Grager of Lyndonville was second in the brown trout division with this 12-pound, 12-ounce fish.

Eric Diltz of Brockport holds the fourth place rainbow trout, which weighed 12 pounds, 2 ounces.

Dan DeGeorge of Rochester won the lake trout division with this 17-pound, 10-ounce fish.

Brayden Gambell of Hilton came in third with this lake trout that weighed 14 pounds, 9 ounces.

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Entries sought for annual canal photo contest

Posted 10 August 2017 at 1:17 pm

Press Release, Erie Canalway National Heritage Corrdior

WATERFORD – As New York celebrates the 200th anniversary of the building of the Erie Canal in 2017, amateur and professional photographers are invited to capture the canal corridor’s distinctive sense of place for the 12th annual Erie Canalway Photo Contest.

Winning photos will be featured in the 2018 Erie Canalway calendar.

Images should convey the wealth of things to do and see along the waterway and express the unique character of the canal and canal communities. Images will be judged in four contest categories: On the Water, Along the Trail, Canal Communities, and Classic Canal. Judges will select first, second, and third place winning images in each category, as well as 12 honorable mentions.

Images must be taken within the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, which spans 524 miles across the full expanse of upstate New York. It encompasses the Erie, Cayuga-Seneca, Oswego, and Champlain canals and their historic alignments, as well as more than 230 canal communities.

Entries must be postmarked by August 31, 2017. Click here to download official contest rules and an entry form.

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Fishing Derby starts with $8,800 in prizes up for grabs

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 5 August 2017 at 10:09 am

Photo by Tom Rivers: Julie Schaeffer holds the 30-pound, 14-ounce Chinook salmon that she caught to win to the $4,000 grand prize in last year’s Orleans County Fishing Derby. Schaeffer is from Sligo, Pa. and has been coming to Orleans County to fish since the early 1980s.

The annual Orleans County Fishing Derby starts today and continues until Aug. 20 with $8,800 in prizes available.

The angler who catches the biggest fish in the derby wins $4,000.

Participants in the derby can enter fish in four divisions: Chinook salmon, brown trout, rainbow trout, and lake trout.

Besides $4,000 for the biggest fish, the four division leaders each get $500, followed by $300 for second, $200 for third, $100 for fourth and $50 for fifth.

There is also a $200 prize to the Orleans County resident who catches the biggest fish.

The derby is sponsored by the Albion Rotary Club, and proceeds go towards community projects. The Rotary Club has been organizing the derby for more than 30 years, seeing the event as a way to promote tourism businesses and the local fishing scene.

For more on the derby, including how to register, click here.

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Governor says expanded no-wake zone in effect through Sept. 2

Photo by Tom Rivers: These boats were out on Lake Ontario near Point Breeze last June 30, 2016.

Posted 3 August 2017 at 5:31 pm

Press Release, Gov. Cuomo’s Office

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that he has authorized the Commissioner of New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation to extend the 5 mile per hour boating speed limit on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River through Saturday, September 2. Vessels operating within 600 feet of shore must observe the 5 mile per hour speed limit to reduce impacts to shoreline residences and infrastructure caused by wave action and to promote safe boating.

“High water continues to impact homeowners and businesses along the Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River, and by extending the no-wake zone for an additional month, we can ensure boaters are helping to protect New York’s vulnerable shorelines,” Governor Cuomo said. “As part of the state’s ongoing response to coastal flooding in the region, this 5 mile per hour speed limit will help keep both communities and residents along the shoreline safe.”

Reduced speeds are necessary to ensure safe boating, as many hidden hazards and debris have been covered by elevated water levels and can threaten boaters. By extending the speed limit for an additional month, boat wakes and wave action will remain low along the Lake Ontario and St Lawrence shores. Waves created by boat wakes can exacerbate shoreline erosion, further threatening residential and municipal infrastructure. Local municipalities may issue tickets carrying fines of up to $250 per infraction to recreational boaters violating the 5 mph speed limit within 600 feet of shore.

State Parks Commissioner Rose Harvey said, “We urge boaters heading to their favorite destinations on Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River to be good stewards of our state’s coastal environment. By following the reduced speed limits, boaters are helping prevent more erosion along the coastline and ensure the safety of all boaters from any potential accidents.”

Under normal conditions, boaters are required to obey the 5 mile per hour speed limit within 100 feet of the shore, dock, pier, raft, float, or anchored boat. When no speed limit is posted, vessels must always be operated in such a fashion so as not to endanger others. A vessel must be able to stop safely within the clear space ahead and a vessel operator is always responsible for any damage caused by the vessel’s wake.

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Spectacular garden in Albion will be featured on tour Saturday

Photos by Kristina Gabalski: The garden at the Riley family home in Albion, located off Braley Street near Butts Road by the canal, will be featured on a tour Saturday.

By Kristina Gabalski, Correspondent Posted 14 July 2017 at 12:35 pm

ALBION – The volunteer master gardeners at the Orleans County Cornell Cooperative Extension are planning a garden party on Saturday at the home of long-time Albion resident Jeanette Riley.

Participants will be able to stroll and explore the extensive gardens from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. as they enjoy festivities.

“We will have Zambistro’s catering, LynOaken/Leonard Oakes Estate Winery wine tasting, gardening-related lectures, and much more,” Master Gardener Kim Hazel said.

Jeanette Riley discusses her garden with Orleans County Cornell Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Don O’Keefe in preparation for the Garden Party event on Saturday.

The Garden Party is a first-time event for Master Gardeners and takes the place of summer garden tours of years past.

Jeanette’s gardens were featured on the 2016 Master Gardener Garden Paths tour and offer multiple garden rooms filled with both native and unusual plants, garden ornaments, seating, gazebos, arbors and garden outbuildings, one which is constructed to include a tree trunk as part of one of its walls.

Lighting plays a major roll in ornamentation and night-time illumination in the garden. This ornate lantern looks just as beautiful in daylight as in moonlight. Note the crown embellishing the top of the post.

Jeanette said her family didn’t get serious about putting in gardens until about  20 years ago. Now, the expansive yard, which backs up to the Erie Canal, offers a seemingly endless Eden and reflects the love of the Riley family for gardening and for each other.

In fact, Jeanette said her greatest joy comes from, “being able to work with my mother and brother in the garden.”

Jeanette, her mother Alma and brother Willie have been most involved in creating and maintaing the garden, but it is enjoyed by all of Alma’s children (she has 10) and now her grandchildren when they come home for visits.

A gargoyle perches high above the garden pathway.

Proceeds from the event benefit the Orleans County Cornell Cooperative Extension Master Gardener program which offers educational workshops, trainings, youth horticulture programs and more.

More information is available at A limited number of tickets will be available at the door.

There is ample evidence throughout the garden that the Riley’s enjoy reflecting their sense of humor. Here, a sanding frog statue supports an armillary sphere.

An amazing variety of bird houses not only add charm to Jeanette’s garden, they also welcome the birds.

Small, intriguing details can be found throughout Jeanette’s garden. Here, a rustic planter in the shape of a face gazes upward and sports a crown of succulents.

A clock rises above the varied plantings and reminds gardeners anytime is a good time to be in the garden.

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Collins pleased $300 million Great Lakes Restoration Initiative in budget bill

Posted 14 July 2017 at 7:13 am

Press Release, Congressman Chris Collins

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Chris Collins (NY-27) applauded the release of the FY18 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill that includes $300 million in funding for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI).

“The Great Lakes are the largest system of fresh water in the world and it is our responsibility to make sure they are preserved for future generations to enjoy,” said Collins. “I applaud the House Committee on Appropriations for recognizing the importance of the Great Lakes, which are a vital economic and environmental asset for Western New York.”

The GLRI’s projects focus on significant problems facing the Great Lakes and the biggest threats to the ecosystem. Current projects focus on:

• Cleaning up Great Lakes Areas of Concern

• Preventing and controlling invasive species

• Reducing nutrient runoff that contributes to harmful/nuisance algal blooms

• Restoring habitat to protect native species

“The GLRI has long-term, strategic goals and needs the certainty that funding will continue for such significant projects,” said Collins. “I fully support all of the GLRI’s hard work to tackle these challenges and protect our vast resource.”

For more information on the GLRI, click here.

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200 years ago today, construction started on the Erie Canal

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 4 July 2017 at 10:03 am

File photos by Tom Rivers

This photo from Sept. 23, 2015 shows a canal boat named Canandaigua out cruising on the Erie Canal along Presbyterian Road at the widewaters section in Gaines.

Today marks the 200th anniversary of the start of the Erie Canal’s construction. Construction started in Rome. It would take about eight years to complete the project, going 363 miles across the state.

“200 years ago, on this very day, ground was broken for the construction of America’s most iconic and enduring man-made waterway – the Erie Canal. Happy Bicentennial!” – NYS Canal Corporation tweeted today

Rome will recreate the ceremonial groundbreaking on July 22.

The tugboat Syracuse carries inspectors and officials from the State Canal Corp. on the Erie Canal in Albion on Sept. 14, 2016. The inspectors headed east after passing under the Ingersoll Street lift bridge in Albion. They were doing the annual inspection of lift bridges, locks, navigational aids, embankments and some other canal infrastructure.

A small sign on a tree in a ditch in Holley notes that this was part of the original Erie Canal loop that meandered to the Public Square area of Holley. This is a rare section of the original canal loop. The canal was widened several times after the original construction was completed in 1825.

The state veered the canal from a relatively straight line in Holley in 1823 due to the high banks and engineering challenge in dealing with Sandy Creek. The Erie Canal used to loop about 2,000 feet towards the Public Square.

There was an unusually deep ravine formed by the east branch of Sandy Creek, which presented a difficult engineering problem for builders of the original Erie Canal in the early 1820s, according to display on the north side of the canal by the Holley lift bridge. The State Canal Corp. put up that display about “The Holley Loop.”

This historical marker is next to the railroad depot used by the Murray-Holley Historical Society near the former Save-A-Lot. The original canal went near the depot and Public Square and some stone and remnants are still visible in the community.

Rather than try to build the canal on the ravine, engineers opted to take a sharp turn near the current lift bridge and cross over a relatively narrow section of the creek.

“The sharp curve required boaters to slow down, which made a promising location for canal-oriented busiensses,” according to the state display. “The Village of Holley grew at this bend in the canal.”

The canal was widened throughout the 363-mile-long system from 1905 to 1918 and much of the original canal was replaced by the wider and deeper canal.

But in Holley, some of the original remained because it wasn’t touched as part of the Barge Canal widening in the early 1900s.

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Master Gardeners do extreme makeover at former Girl Scout camp in Ridgeway

By Kristina Gabalski, Correspondent Posted 18 June 2017 at 1:19 pm

Photos by Kristina Gabalski: Mike Snyder (standing second from left) and Gloria Brent (standing third from right), pose with Master Gardener volunteers who helped with an extreme makeover for their garden on Saturday.

RIDGEWAY – Master Gardener with the Cornell Cooperative Extension in Orleans County spent Saturday morning installing a garden at the Ridgeway home of Gloria Brent and Mike Snyder, the winners of the 2016 Master Gardener Garden Makeover drawing.

Gloria and Mike own the former Oak Orchard Girl Scout camp and are working to create a park-like landscape on a portion of the property near where they someday will build a new home. They chose to have the garden installed in that area of their yard, just outside a wooded area.

The couple won the makeover/installation last September in a drawing held during the annual Master Gardener Plant Sale on the Orleans County 4-H Fairgrounds.

“She jumped up and down with the phone in her hands,”  Mike says of his wife’s reaction to winning. “She really wants to get into gardening.”

The garden area is shown before planting. Topsoil was brought in and Master Gardener volunteers added composted manure and peat moss to the site.

Brent and Snyder obtained their tickets at the Master Gardener booth during the 2016 Orleans County 4-H Fair.

“I walked up to the booth looking for knowledge about gardening, which I am going to start as a hobby,” Gloria said.

A Master Gardener explained about the Makeover drawing –  in which the winner receives design advice, plant material from Sara’s Garden Center in Brockport, and installation by Master Gardeners of a new garden (or garden renovation) on their property.  The entire makeover is valued at over $1,000.

Gloria asked if it was possible for her to simply pay for help, but was told Master Gardeners cannot do that.

So she obtained five tickets in order to, “have the best chance of winning,” she said.

Both Gloria and Mike say they are thrilled with the results and will use the new garden as inspiration for additional plantings.

Tickets for the 2017 Master Gardener Makeover are currently available from Master Gardeners for a donation of $10. Tickets will also be available at the Master Gardener booth at this year’s Orleans County 4-H Fair, July 24-29.  This year’s drawing will be held Saturday, September 9, during the annual Master Gardener Plant Sale on the 4-H Fairgrounds.

Landscape fabric is placed over the topsoil.

Mike Snyder uses heavy equipment to move a large cauldron to the garden site for placement.

Master Gardener volunteers Alex Greene and Don O’Keefe help place a large rock moved from the property to become part of the garden design.

Gloria and Mike decided to tilt the cauldron for a better view of the plants which would be placed inside. The antique is a family heirloom of Mike’s. It originated on his grandfather’s farm in Albion and was used by the family for watering cows in the pasture. Gloria and Mike wanted it to be a part of the garden in memory of Mike’s mom.

The cauldron is planted with annual flowers. Mike and Gloria will be able to change the contents each year, if they choose to do so.

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DEC advises motorists to be alert for turtles crossing the road

Photo by Tom Rivers: This photo from April 3 shows a painted turtle on Albion-Eagle Harbor Road in Gaines.

Posted 27 May 2017 at 9:18 am

Drivers asked to consider helping turtles cross the road; Use caution with snapping turtles

Press Release, DEC

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation is reminding the public that the state’s native turtles are on the move in May and June seeking sandy areas or loose soil to lay their eggs.

Drivers that see a turtle on the road should use caution and should not swerve suddenly or leave their lane of travel, but take care to avoid hitting turtles while driving.

In New York, thousands of turtles are killed each year when they are struck by vehicles as the turtles migrate to their nesting areas. New York’s 11 native species of land turtles are in decline, and turtles can take more than 10 years to reach breeding age. The reptiles lay just one small clutch of eggs each year, which means the loss of a breeding female can have a significant effect on the local turtle population.

This time of year, it is especially important to be on the lookout for turtles and to drive cautiously, particularly on roads near rivers and marshy areas. If a turtle is spotted on the road or near the shoulder, drivers should safely stop their vehicle and consider moving the turtle to the side of the road in the direction the reptile is facing.

Picking the turtle up by its tail may frighten or injure the reptile. Most turtles can be picked up by the side of their shells.

It’s important to use extreme caution when moving snapping turtles; either pick the turtle up at the rear of the shell near the tail using two hands, or slide a car mat under the turtle to drag the turtle across the road. Do not take the turtle into personal possession. All native turtles are protected by law and cannot be collected without a permit.

Boaters urged to show extra caution due to debris in lake and tributaries

Posted 27 May 2017 at 8:50 am

Photo by Tom Rivers: A boater passes through the channel at Oak Orchard Harbor at Point Breeze in this photo from May 28, 2015. Boaters are being asked to respect a 500-foot no-wake zone near the shore due to high Lake Ontario waters.

Press Release, Orleans County Undersheriff Chris Bourke

(Editor’s Note: The article was updated to say the state boat launch on Archibald Road is closed due to high water levels.)

Orleans County Sheriff’s Undersheriff Christopher Bourke would like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that the 2017 boating and fishing season is upon us and the Sheriff’s Office Marine Division is in service and ready to assist people enjoying the waterways of Orleans County this summer.

Despite Lake Ontario and the rivers being at an all-time high, small craft boating, canoeing, kayaking and fishing is allowable and has not been restricted in any way. Sheriff Randy Bower is asking boaters to take into consideration the erosion occurring along shoreline properties and to respect a 500 feet no-wake zone when near shore. The lakes and rivers have debris in them so extra caution should be taken so as to not damage your vessel or equipment.

Many privately owned marinas are open but may be partially underwater so it is best to contact them for launching and docking arrangements. The Orleans County Launch at Point Breeze is open, as well as the boat launches at Lake Alice, Glenwood Lake and the Erie Canal. (The state boat launch on Archibald Road is closed due to high water levels.)

The Orleans County Marine Park on Point Breeze Road is also open and ready for the season with our newly constructed playground for children, pavilions, picnic tables and bathroom facilities.

Please call 585-589-3102 or check out the Orleans County Tourism website and Facebook page for updates on dock rental at the Marine Park as well as upcoming summer activities such as our fantastic “Tuesday Night in the Park” Summer Concert Series, Classic Car Cruise Nights and great family events.

Also please refer to the Tourism webpage and Facebook page for their weekly fishing report as Orleans County continues to be one of the premier fishing destinations in the country.

For any questions regarding upcoming boater’s safety classes, requests for vessels safety checks, or general questions for the Sheriff’s Marine Division, you may call the Marine Office at 585-682-4366.

The Sheriff’s Office wishes everyone a safe summer.

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