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Iconic ferry set for official return to Chautauqua Lake

Photos by Nikk Holland Pictured from left are Bemus Point-Stow Ferry co-president Jay Kuntz, Giff Lawerence, board member Ro Woodard and co-president Martha Anderson on the ferry applying the finishing touches for this weekend’s re-launch.

After a three-year hiatus, the Bemus Point-Stow Ferry is finally set to return.

Bemus Point Mayor Bryan Dahlberg is looking forward to the return of the historic piece of Chautauqua Lake.

“It’s very exciting for us,” he said. “It’s been a constant in our community and our lake community since Thomas Bemus started running a ferry across the lake. To have it gone for a few years, it’s been very sad. It’s a great tourist attraction — very neat.”

With COVID restrictions easing and visitors to Bemus Point increasing, Dahlberg said the return of the ferry couldn’t have been more timely.

“This is my favorite time of year,” he said. “When our residents and visitors get out-and-about and the village gets busy — I enjoy that. With the ferry winding back up, it’s really a nice period of time (for the village).”

Pictured from left are Ro Woodard, John Weise, Martha Anderson, Jay Kuntz and Giff Lawerence convening on the Bemus Point-Stow Ferry. The ferry launches Friday at 5 p.m., with a re-dedication ceremony at 4 p.m.

In 2018, the ferry was forced to halt its operation after it failed the 10-year hull inspection and lost its license. The hull was eroding as a result of water and snow leaking from the top metal deck into the hull. Metal beams on the deck also needed to be replaced.

In 2018 and 2019, Hohl Industries and other volunteers worked to scrap, cut, install new hatch covers and replace steel on the deck that was causing leakage into the hull. Last July, the ferry was lifted via crane out of the Stow landing to continue renovations.

A grant from the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation aided the repairs to the ferry. Finally, in August, after three different tests, four certified inspectors approved the repair, and after a routine spring inspection, the ferry is able to start bringing passengers across the lake.

Bemus Point Stow Ferry co-president Jay Kuntz is looking forward to the ferry’s return.

“Well there’s a whole cocktail of emotions, and all of them are really very positive,” Kuntz said. “To be able to say that we can take people back and forth from Stow to Bemus on the ferry is just really what all of us have been working for very diligently for the past three years.”

Kuntz commended the efforts of the board, various donations and the contracting crews working in unison to get the ferry operating again.

“The contractors got paid for the work that they did, but all of them took a level of ownership in the work that they were doing that was beyond the scope of just showing up to work,” Kuntz said.

“The group effort has been unbelievable,” he added. “Everybody that I dealt with was reliable, and you can’t really ask much more than that from a group of people — much less volunteers.”

Kuntz noted the ferry has been a constant in his life, and he hopes the generational impact of the ferry can continue.

“It has been a part of my entire life, and even going beyond that it’s been a part of my family’s life since 1917, when they first came to Chautauqua,” he said. “Let’s get the new generation. If you have kids or grandkids that have never been on the ferry, come join. We’re here for you to enjoy.”

North Harmony Town Supervisor Robert Yates is also eager for the reopening this weekend.

“I’m very, very happy to have the ferry back up and running in operations,” he said. “This is a great piece of history for the town of North Harmony, Stow and for Bemus it’s a great part of history.”

Yates also praised the work of those involved in getting the ferry back in operation.

“Everybody involved deserves a hearty round of applause,” he said. “Everybody really worked hard. There were some great contractors involved, everybody helped, everybody pitched in. It’s just a great thing to have back up and running.”

Yates also commented on the easing of restrictions and the apparent re-opening of Chautauqua County.

“Things are opening up for everybody, so here we go,” he said. “Let’s get Chautauqua County back to having summer again back to having fun. It’s a little bit of normalcy coming our way.”

On Friday at 4 p.m., there will be a re-dedication and blessing of the ferry before it begins operation at 5 p.m. On Saturday, the ferry will be running from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. From 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, there will be a chicken barbecue dinner at Stow Landing.

On Monday at noon, the ferry will honor the military members who have given their lives to protect the country.

“We’re going to have a tribute in the middle of the lake with a bagpiper, a group from the Ellery VFW doing the traditional ceremonial salute, followed by taps from one of our volunteers,” Kuntz said. “We’re going to take over the middle of the narrows for a few minutes on Memorial Day.”

Information regarding the operational schedule and memorial day events can be found at bemuspointstowferry.org.

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