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Village of Cassadaga officials report an increase in tourist visits at locations such as these.

Village of Cassadaga officials report an increase in tourist visits at locations such as these.
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The COVID-19 pandemic has heavily discouraged travel in general, but especially to places with high amounts of condensed population. Effectively having people confined to their homes has increased that cabin fever feeling for many people, making them want to get out of their house and village or city in which they live. But where do you take a vacation that’s safe in the middle of a pandemic?

For the last year, Cassadaga has apparently been an answer.

“People are looking to get out of congested areas, and want to vacation away from it. They want to be where they feel safe,” said Susan Asquith, a member of the Cassadaga Planning Board. “They want to be where they can bike, kayak, walk, hike, fish and just enjoy nature. We’re so perfectly located as a community to attract that with the natural environment.”

The Cassadaga Lakes feature several different cottages that can be rented out, mainly via AirBnB, and depending on the cottage, the stay can last a handful of days or a full week. The uptick in rentals and online views of the cottages in Cassadaga is a staggering increase from years past.

“This past year, we were booked the entire six months we were open,” said Rodney Waite, who owns the Paddle Inn on Heron Hideaway Island on the lower Cassadaga Lake. “On AirBnB they have stats and one of them is the number of views over a certain period of time, and in the middle of the summer, we were averaging 40,000 views over a 30 day period. The year before, it was maybe 300 views per month. We’re still at 12,000 views and we aren’t even open right now. We have no openings, and we’re totally booked up for this year.”

This is Waite’s third year doing cottage rental and has been his most successful thus far. While his cottage is only open for six months and closes for the winter, the success is still present for him. The boon in success that Waite has seen with his rentals is consistent with other cottage owners on the Cassadaga Lakes, including Ken Ulrich and Kim Collins.

The draw of Cassaga is the natural aspect, which Ulrich in particular has encouraged people to fully embrace.

“We chose not to have any internet access or TV, and we still don’t,” Ulrich said. “We’ve gotten compliments on that. People come from big population centers, and we’ve gotten a lot of comments on the sunsets. COVID-19 has allowed for a lot of family time. People come here to sit around the fire, play board games, and it’s a big family connection thing. People are enjoying family time being unplugged. It’s allowed people to slow down and focus on relationships.”

All three cottage managers reported an influx of people coming not only from the Buffalo and Western New York regions, but from places like Canada, Washington, D.C., Pittsburgh, and even a couple from California, which is easier now that travel restrictions have been loosened.

“This has allowed people to see that instead of going to Florida, you can get in the car and drive for a couple hours to grill, bike, and watch a sunset,” Collins said. “That’s a big thing, and it’s safe, almost like your own little resort.”

AriBnB is being very responsible when it comes to regulations about cleaning, as people do still have to be safe during the pandemic. They have cleaning conditions that all the cottage owners have to follow, but it’s nothing they can’t handle.

“AirBnB is pretty good about helping you stay up with cleaning regiments,” Waite said. “I’m a dentist, I’m particular about disease control anyway.”

“AirBnB has policies to make properties COVID-19 compliant,” Ulrich added. “They don’t allow you to have any pillow accessories on couches, and only want pillows for beds. That way they know every time someone comes in and out that there are fresh sheets. So the place is currently scantily decorated due to COVID.”

All of Collins, Ulrich, and Waite are booked up through the summer months, and any cancellation is filled within hours of opening up, and a lot of those rentals are repeat customers who have rented before. The area is perfect for people who want to bring their families and unplug for a couple days.

“The people in Cassadaga make a huge difference,” Collins said. “People love the small town feel. They’re not going to a place to be entertained, they’re coming to a quiet lake for a more relaxed getaway. It’s for people looking to recharge and get away from it all and just breath, you can feel it when you get there. It’s a very healthy lifestyle place.”

“It’s a definite selling point,” Waite added. “What better place to isolate than an island cabin?”

The sort of tourism that Cassadaga is experiencing is also beneficial, as the people that come to stay support the local businesses around, which is something the cottage owners are also very appreciative of.

“I purposely didn’t put a kitchen in, and we don’t have a stove or oven,” Waite said. “There’s just a microwave, a hot plate, and a fridge. We did that on purpose because we didn’t want people to stay for long periods. We wanted them to go to local restaurants and support restaurants, which helps the local economy. It’s win-win for everyone.”

Though there isn’t much space left around the lakes to construct new properties, Cassadaga’s lake rentals are currently a lucrative business that is helpful for the rest of the community around, and the boom is likely not something that is temporary.

“I don’t think it’ll be a short term thing,” Collins said. “This has allowed people to discover Cassadaga, and even when COVID passes, I think this will keep up.”

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