2011 City Guide: Wyoming County
Within its 590 square miles of farms, forest, and waterways from the eastern edge of Erie County to the Genesee River, Wyoming County offers uncluttered vistas, back roads, quiet towns, and tourist attractions that are easily worth the short drive from Buffalo. Just outside the hamlet of Varysburg, for example, is Hans Boxler’s Wildlife Preserve where visitors can mingle with water buffalo, zebra, yaks, and camels in a rambling spread that sits adjacent to his dairy farm. On Route 19 is the picturesque village of Wyoming (population: about 500). Wyoming’s historic district, known as Gaslight Village, is home to several 19th century restaurants and gift shops sitting along a main street still illuminated by natural gas. Dramatic waterfalls distinguish Letchworth State Park, while one of the country’s smallest post offices serves the hamlet of Dale, just up the road from the imposing fortress called Attica Correctional. On Welch Road in Java, the Beaver Meadows Audubon Center is home to flocks of waterfowl and dozens of species of winged creatures. Fly fishermen can wade Wiscoy and East Coy Creeks for brown trout, then stop at Martin’s Mennonite Store in Warsaw for food and unusual gifts. And you’ll never be far from the giant windmills that tower over the landscape, generating electricity (and no small amount of controversy) and providing a boon to land owners. And how can I forget hunting, camping, kayaking, ballooning—well, you get the idea.
What puts Wyoming County solidly in the W column, though, is the warmth you find in the people you meet. It might be the waitress at Mack’s Diner on Silver Lake serving plates of eggs and holding court with the regulars at the counter. Or the bartender at the Flipside in Strykersville making you feel like one of the gang. It might be the salt-of-the-earth types you discover at a roadside vegetable and maple syrup stand, fishermen working a stream, or Harley riders taking a break. They all seem to have that unpretentious “It’s Wyoming County and we like it just fine” way about them.
That friendliness, I discovered, starts at the grassroots level and continues all the way to the top. On a recent Monday morning I turned up unannounced at the Wyoming County office building in Warsaw on Route 19, just north of Route 20A. I wanted to get some of the facts and figures about the county to flesh out my story and decided to go right to the source. With the genial help of Cheryl Ketchum, clerk to the board of town supervisors (the counterpart of our county legislature), and Laura Lane, president of the Wyoming Chamber of Commerce, I had my information in no time. Everyone had been so helpful that I decided to go for broke. “I don’t suppose I could talk to the county executive, could I?” I asked, hesitantly.
Five minutes later Ketchum led me into the office of Doug Berwanger, chairman of the Wyoming County Board of Supervisors, the counterpart of Erie County’s county executive. He is tall, sturdy, and affable, and the hand he offered me had a calloused firmness to it and the generous size of a working man’s. Sure enough, this lifelong East Arcade resident is a fourth-generation dairyman, descended from German and Irish immigrant farmers. He figures he puts in about six hours a day running the county and another six tending the farm he operates with his son. Weekends that goes to ten or twelve hours on the farm, so if you want to talk him on a Saturday, you’ll probably find him working the manure spreader he still operates with a team of draft horses.
“We’re a respectful group out here,” he says. “A little less suspicious than folks in an urban setting, and we try to be friendly to visitors. I don’t guess you’d go to the 16th floor of the Rath Building in Buffalo and walk in without an appointment and have a chat with Chris Collins.” I haven’t tried, but I suspect he’s right.
Wyoming County by the numbers
41,850 (55th in New York State)
Attica, population 10,285
Genesee Falls, population 460
100,500 total; 47,700 milk cows
Rank in dairy production:
1st in New York State, 20th in the U.S.
Annual dairy production:
Over 1 billion pounds of milk
1,450 (No. 1 occupation in county)
Rank in potato production:
1st in New York State
Miles of interstate highway:
Windmills in Wyoming County:
237 (1st in New York State)
Each windmill can power 637 homes for a year
Sources: Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce; Batavia Daily News
Wyoming County Chamber Tourist Promotion Board
6470 Route 20A, Suite 6