It’s a little known fact that sleigh rides would be better received in the summer months.
At least that’s what Dick Clark believes. Saddling his two horses, Dan and Doc, on a bitterly cold afternoon, Dick finished his work and looked at the sky. The harsh winds had died down but the temperature still hovered around eight degrees. Clumps of snow fell off the pine branches as the wind suddenly picked up, sweeping out across his 100-plus acres of land just outside of Gowanda.
“Everyone wants to go on a sleigh ride when it’s 75 degrees out, but they don’t in the winter,” he said.
Once ready, Dick set out along the path behind his home. The horse bells rang fresh and their steps, slow downhill and fast uphill, crunched under the deep, cold snow. Dipping into the forest, all signs of civilization vanished and there was just the wind, the horses, and the conversation.
This year, the Clarks – Dick and his wife, Mary – are trying once again to get their sleigh riding business, Misty Ridge Carriage Service, off the ground. Already known for their wagon rides both on their property and at special events throughout Western New York, the couple began offering sleigh rides last year as a supplement and a new adventure.
Like many winter weather-related activities, however, last winter was a bad winter to start something new.
“I think we had two good days we could have offered it,” Mary said. “It just didn’t work out.”
So far this year, the weather has been favorable. The area has recorded over 20 inches of snow and more is forecast for the coming weeks. Bitter cold is included, but that just adds to the attraction.
Using a 20-year-old bob sleigh, the Clarks offer individual and group outings that typically last an hour and a half. Winding through the thick pine forest, where deer and other assorted wildlife can be glimpsed if you look closely enough, the path runs alongside one of the highest points overlooking Zoar Valley. Of the four sleigh rides already given this season, most of the people jumped off the sleigh and walked eagerly the 25 yards to the lookout and took in the view.
“Most people are just amazed,” Dick said. “We’ve found out through the years that many people who have come here for the wagon rides didn’t even know this kind of place existed. A lot of the people come from Hamburg and Buffalo, city people, and they’re shocked. They’re just amazed.”
Circling back, riders are delivered to the front steps of a large cabin Dick and family members built two years ago. Equipped with a wood stove and furniture, the cabin serves as a halfway break. Mary offers treats that complement the season – and also several stories about how people have fallen in love with the area.
She tells of a group from Cheektowaga who arrived at the cabin following a wagon ride. Stepping away from them for a moment, the Clarks came back to find them in the middle of an intense card game. The windows were open and the smell of pine and leaves and the earth filled the room.
“A few people come and sit for a minute and are ready to go,” Mary said. “Others … you wonder if they’ll ever leave.”
It’s also not uncommon to find a group sitting outside the cabin near a campfire.
Back in the sleigh, the horses head back north along the path.
For Dick, who grew up with horses, starting the business on the side in 1998 made sense.
“We wanted a reason to keep our horses,” Mary said.
“I can’t stand not doing something for very long,” Dick said.
While they travel with their horses and wagon to Buffalo for the annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony and other events, it’s the services they provide at their home that delights them most of all. When speaking of the forest and the path he has blazed and the cabin he built, Dick can’t help but grin.
“I absolutely love it here,” he said, shoving his hands into his pockets. “I come out here six days a week, and so many people have no idea this place is back here.”
The cost for the wagon or sleigh ride varies depending on group size, days and times, as well as the season. More information can be found by calling (716) 532-5859 and by visiting www.mistyridgecarriage.com.