Modern Day Adventurer Visits Chautauqua Lake on 22 Rivers Tour

Canoeist Neal Moore recently passed through Warren, Chautauqua and Erie counties as a component of his ‘Sea-To-Shining Sea” trek on America’s waterways.  His adventure started in February of 2020 in Astoria, Oregon, and is expected to conclude on December 14 in New York City where he will be joined by a grand paddle fest that will circle the Statue of Liberty.  22 rivers, 22 states, 7,500 miles by canoe – most by paddling, often portaging.

While traversing the length of Chautauqua Lake, Neal landed at Chautauqua Institution and overnighted in the Athenaeum Hotel.  He was greeted on the shore by Chautauqua Lake Association Executive Director Douglas Conroe, CLA Treasurer and Chautauqua Foundation Executive Director Debbie Moore and Athenaeum Hotel General Manager Leland Lewis.  Associates from the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission had notified Doug about Neal’s pending arrival.  Chatting that evening on the hotel porch with local residents, Neal’s interest was further peaked about the local community resulting in his remaining longer than anticipated.  Carl and Marilyn Scarpino gave him lodging for two nights in Chautauqua as did Doug and Jane Conroe for a night in Maple Springs.  Dinner time brought friends together to share experiences and to learn of Neal’s trek and observations.  Daytimes included a tour of Chautauqua Institution, a visit with Institution Archivist Jon Schmitz, excursions to Jamestown – including conversation and a haircut with stylist Sharon at Dorian’s -, Midway State Park and on to Barcelona to scope out his pending travel over the historic portage trail from Mayville to Lake Erie’s Barcelona Harbor where he would depart for Buffalo.  Good insight was gained there about Lake Erie from Cameron Monroe, the owner the Monroe Marina.  In addition to special time spent at the Athenaeum, a tour of the Hotel Lenhart was hosted by owner John Johnston.  Neal appreciates the value of having historic hotels remain and the stories that they convey.

An expatriate for thirty years, Neal spent time abroad first as a missionary in South Africa and later as an English teacher in several countries ending in a long-term residency in Taipei, Taiwan.  One day he was talking with a friend about where each would like to live next.  Neal thought “What about my own back yard?”  Excursions were then planned to reacquaint himself with America.  Neal commented to this writer “Being an expatriate, I want to see my country from sea-to-shining sea.  I want to see it from an unbiased viewpoint and to experience the Statue of Liberty by arriving from the American side.”

Neal started with smaller treks including journeying the entire length of the Mississippi River.  The current 22 Rivers Trek required a year of planning.  It is believed to be the first west-to-east trek.  His pathway follows in reverse of the one that was taken in 1890 by a twenty-two year old adventurer except that Neal added a side trip to New Orleans to wait out the northern winter.  “I’m not doing this just to be the first west-to-east explorer.  I want to see nature.  I want to meet people.  I want to see a cross-section of America” Neal said. Speed of travel is not a must for him now in his nineteenth month of travel.  When crossing over the Continental Divide, Neal was asked “What’s your Cause?”  He answered “To see America.”  “Where are you going?” “New York City.”  “Why?”  “It’s not about New York City.  It’s about everything in between!”

In conversations while here in Chautauqua County, Neal commented that “It is important to stop and listen and learn in order to gain an understanding of America and its people.”  He later added that the journey has helped him to “experience the diversity of America and to experience the breadth of America.”  For example, he noted that where he started in Astoria, Oregon, the population was one Caucasian American to four Chinese Americans.  The south has a large population of people of color while the Midwest is largely white.  Stopping and talking with everyone engendered an understanding of real America.  He frequently noted that despite our divisions that there is much that unites us.  “When a crisis occurs, the barriers disappear and everyone works together to overcome the problem.”  He has experienced this firsthand multiple times throughout his trip.

Asked why he chose to paddle instead of hiking or driving, he responded that the waterways are the great original connector of America and continue today to support our diverse culture.  He felt that the network of rivers would be best pathway from which to achieve his goals of firsthand understanding America and its environment.

When asked how our area’s rivers compared with the rivers that he had experienced throughout his trip, he responded that he found the “Allegany River to be a wild and scenic free-flowing river that is comparable with the best.”  A number of the rivers that he traversed felt more like lakes due to the pools that were established by their dams.  They were generally calm although they did have strong currents.  He considered the Allegany to be the “end of the challenge” of his upstream paddling.  The upcoming waterways across New York State were expected to be flat and calm in most cases.  Stretches along the Erie Canal will require him to affix the wheel assembly for the canoe, while he dons a harness to pull it.   

When leaving Chautauqua Institution, he headed to Mayville where he would portage the historic route that explorers took over two-hundred years ago from Lake Erie to Mayville.  Passing by Lighthouse Point he was hailed by resident David Williams who subsequently escorted him over the portage and joined him for dinner. 

Another connection with a local person was gained along with another perspective and treasured stories.  An overnight in Westfield, then a portage to Barcelona Harbor the next morning, found him at the Great Lake Erie.

At Barcelona he was joined by a kayaker, Carol Samuelson, who had heard of his trek.  They started out in calm waters paddling towards his evening destination of Dunkirk Harbor. Traveling just over two miles, Lake Erie gave them one of its transformations into a very windy lake with steep rolling waves.  Both were swamped and tossed to shore.  In the process the kayaker was trapped under his canoe until Neal was quickly able to free her.  It was a challenging experience for both to endure.  They were ashore in a cove that Carol knew because her cousins resided there.  They happened to be home at the time, spotted them and provided them shelter and a place to dry out.  The Samuelsons took Neal and his canoe to his planned stay location in Dunkirk as the lake was far too rough for him to continue by water.  Again, Neal experienced and appreciated the generosity and concern of Chautauqua County residents.  The next day with the lake remaining rough he pulled his canoe along Route 5 and on to meeting new people.

Early on just after he had traversed the Great Divide, a person asked him what if he gets down and wants to give up fighting the challenges of the trek.  He said that he responded “I can’t stop.  It’s the people along the way.  People are phenomenal.”

The trek can be followed on Instagram and on his website www.22rivers.com.

— Douglas E. Conroe, Chautauqua Lake Association Executive Director