PANAMA - When Panama Rocks Scenic Park opens today, it will see a change in stewardship; however, the park will stay in the current owner's family as Jonathan Weston and his wife, Holly take over management from Jonathan's parents, Craig and Sandi Weston.
"We are glad that Jonathan and Holly came back to run the family business," Craig said. "Panama Rocks is truly a unique and wonderful place and we want to share it with others. I have people say all the time that they couldn't find things to do with their teenagers, but this they can do all together. Even grandparents come along."
Before moving back to Chautauqua County from Washington, D.C., Jonathan worked for the United States Congress and Holly worked for The Carlyle Group, a global alternative asset management firm.
Panama Rocks opens for the season today.
"Chautauqua County is a wonderful place, the only place we want to live, and Panama Rocks is one if its hidden treasures," Jonathan said. "The park has actually been the No. 1-rated attraction in the county on TripAdvisor.com for the last two years," Holly added.
The 12-acre park, located at 11 Rock Hill Road in Panama, contains 300-million-year-old monoliths and is one of the largest rock formations of its kind in the world, with some of the quartz-conglomerate slabs reaching upward of 60 feet in height.
"We have families that come back year after year; parents who have brought their children, who later bring their grandchildren, and make it a yearly trip with lots of amazing memories," Sandi added. "When people first discover the rocks they're just in awe. Often when guests come as a family, they leave saying they've never had so much fun together because it's so involving for everyone."
George Hubbard purchased what was originally known as "The Rock Farm" in 1885 and established the location as a park.
"It's an honor to be part of the rich history and beauty of Panama Rocks," Holly said. "The park opened in 1885, the same year as the first New York state park, Niagara Falls."
It was purchased from Hubbard by D.L. Davis in 1910, who began to develop the scenic area in and around the park to make access easier.
"In the early 1900s, Panama Rocks became a popular retreat for honeymooners, with the old house on the property acting as a hotel and the recreation hall operating as a dining area and dance hall," Holly added. "We even have a picture of James Packard when he was here during his honeymoon. Geologically, the park's rock formations date back hundreds of millions of years - older than formations at Yosemite."
The park changed hands several more times and went through multiple renovations until Craig and Sandi purchased it in 1979.
"The rock formations here were uncovered toward the end of the last ice age," Holly added, "and we feel a strong responsibility to protect the amazing nature and history here while ensuring that the park's legacy is available for many more generations to come together, make amazing memories, and learn about and appreciate nature."
Jonathan and Holly are also happy to be back in Chautauqua County with their families. Jonathan was raised in the village of Panama and went to Panama Central School while Holly grew up in the town of Busti and graduated from Frewsburg Central School. Holly also currently works as a digital communications specialist at Bush Industries and Jonathan serves on the board of directors of the Chautauqua County Visitor's Bureau and as a trustee in the village of Panama. In their "free" time, Holly is actively involved in local community theatre, and Jonathan substitute teaches and tutors at Chautauqua Striders and the Boys and Girls Club of Jamestown.
"We are excited to be back in Chautauqua County after nine years away," Jonathan said. "Panama Rocks is truly an amazing place and we are lucky to be here. We are also excited about the incredible things that are happening in the county, which are turning the region into center for recreation, art and culture. Chautauqua County is in a resurgence. Our natural beauty is unparalleled and there are incredible activities for residents and visitors ranging from hiking, boating, golfing, fishing, hunting, snowmobiling, skiing, visiting area wineries, enjoying our cultural and historical institutions, and so on."
Panama Rocks is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. with the last entry at 4 p.m. Admission rates, payable in cash only, are $15 for a season pass, $7.50 for general admission, $5 for children ages 6-12 and free for children ages 5 and under. Senior citizens, members of the military and students with a valid ID receive a discounted rate of $6. Visit www.panamarocks.com for more information.