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Connections: Exploring the Extraordinary

By Jeff Martin

Something extraordinary has happened to me ever since I moved to the Ellicottville area.

Having moved from the large metropolitan area of Kansas City, where fast food chains were as numerous as blades of grass and the people and traffic were like ants on a hill, finding myself in such a sparsely populated area like Ellicottville was an initial shock.

For instance, it had been five years since I had lived in an area where regular folks owned and operated small businesses. When I first walked down Ellicottvilleís main drag, I felt almost light-headed as I read sign after sign proclaiming some name and service that had nothing to do with Big Lots, McDonaldís or Chuck E Cheese.

I remember stopping in the City Garage, my first business visit in my new home. Stuffed with a wide variety of clothing and snow-related equipment, I felt like a 10-year-old looking at a Dennyís menu for the first time. It was near closing time but the clerk helped me look through some discounted items, some of which included North Face garments that I could never find in the Midwest.

Upstairs, the snowboards leaned against the walls like loitering soldiers. The prices were reasonable from what I could tell, but my wallet stayed put like a puppy on a hearth. I made a promise before moving here that I would learn at least one winter sport, and City Garage seemed like the best place to embark on that journey.

Down the street, my girlfriend and I stopped in Ellicottville Brewing Company. I was used to local brewery selections from when I lived in Kansas City, but I can honestly say that Boulevard, the Kansas City signature line, paled in comparison to EBC ó especially EVL Blizzard, a spicy selection that was part slap in the face, part warm embrace.

By then, it was starting to snow pretty hard outside, no doubt because of my drinking a beer named after an unpleasant, and evidently common, weather pattern.

We walked back to the car beneath the glittering dome of lights fastened onto the trees lining ìMain Street.î Behind us, the slopes of Holiday Valley stretched into the sky, the faint sound of snow guns rumbling, the giant tractors (or whatever they call them) snaking their way up and down the hill ó either in an effort to condition the hill or search for lost and/or injured skiers.

That was my first extended visit to the village. Over the course of the following weeks, I would make several trips into the village, some of those trips on personal business and other trips professional. Working at a newspaper always affords one a backdoor glimpse of an area he/she covers. I would sample chocolate at Watsonís Chocolate, examine local art selections at Earth Arts and sit beneath the Northern Lights stained glass piece constructed by a local artist, Mat Snyder.

To be outright honest, Iím a bit overwhelmed by the area ó not just because itís so alien to me but because there is simply too much to do, which I feel is Ellicottvilleís principle charm.

During subsequent weeks, I would visit many unique attractions. One of my most favorite so far is Allegany State Park. Iíve always been a big hiker, and finally living in an area that offers challenging and remote terrain was a blessing.

Slipping into pine forests, where heartbeat and animal sounds replaced those of clicking tires on highway pavement in the far distance, I felt a return to human essence. A member of the Allegany Nordic Ski Patrol once told me when I was doing a story on their group, ìYou can lose yourself in this park, but you can find yourself, too.î

Iím looking forward to pitching a tent in the park this summer ó or, now that Iím on a roll, Iím very much looking forward to resuming my exploration of Zoar Valley, a massive state preserve a mere 15ñ20 miles northeast of the village. People tell me constantly that Buffalo residents simply canít believe that a place like Zoar Valley, with its 500-foot shale cliffs and old-growth forests, exists. I had a difficult time, too, believing my eyes when I first visited it last August.

From skiing, to tubing, to hiking, to camping, to specialty shops, to gambling, to river rafting down Cattaraugus Creek ó and all within an hour of a major metro area ó we are all lucky to live in this area.

Simply put, there is much to do here in Western New York, specifically the Cattaraugus County area. Many people ó both visitors and natives ó fall into ruts where their eyes fail to see whatís in front of them, but Iím happily, and luckily, not among them.

My sister, a Springville resident of 25 years, said to me once that I had found places and things to do in the area in three months that they had never heard about in all the years they had lived here.

With that said, I invite you to contact me and tell me of a place you have heard about or a place you would like to experience. Who knows … maybe I havenít heard about it, and maybe Iíll mention it here in this column.

Happy exploring.              (You can contact Jeff Martin at jwmartin38@gmail.com.)

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