By Rick Miller
With snow starting to pile up around much of Cattaraugus County since early December, snowmobile owners found themselves itching to get out on the snowmobile trails.
The problem for snowmobilers is that trails are closed until the end of late muzzleloader big game season Dec. 19.
Cathy Hill, vice president of the Cattaraugus County Snowmobile Federation and trail coordinator, said as the big game season has been extended, snowmobile clubs had to wait until Dec. 20 this year to open their trails.
As of Dec. 13, she said, about 90 percent of the thousands of trail signs across 400 miles of trails had been installed by snowmobile club volunteers.
“We won’t open the trails until they are all signed,” Hill added. The first signs to go up are the stop and stop ahead signs.
Allegany State Park has another 74 miles of groomed snowmobile trails maintained by park employees.
Hill, a longtime member of the Snow-Bounders Inc. snowmobile club, with 85 miles of trails in the Little Valley area, keeps track of much of the paperwork clubs need to submit for state grants. Each club receives a portion of snowmobile registration fees of its members. Clubs are always looking for grants for expensive grooming equipment.
In 2017, the nine snowmobile clubs with trails in Cattaraugus County shared $127,445 from the state Snowmobile Trail Grant Program. That’s down from a high of more than $210,000 only a few years ago. The 2017 grant was divided as follows:
• Ashford Snowmobile Club, West Valley, $9,540.
• Elibomwons Inc., Randolph, $23,955.
• Enchanted Mountains Border Riders, Westons Mills, $4,275.
• Franklinville Snow Sled Club, Franklinville, $18,355.
• Portville Snowmobile Club, $10,260.
• Snow-Bounders Inc., Cattaraugus, $38,575.
• Southern Tier Snow Drifters, North Collins, $7,945.
• Tri-County Drift Hoppers, Sandusky, $10,830.
• Western New York Snowmobile Club, Boston, $3,710.
Hill advises snowmobile riders from out of the area to join a club in the area where they plan to snowmobile. That way they can register their sled for less than half of what they could at any Department of Motor Vehicles Office and know that the fees will come back to the club for maintenance costs. Snowmobilers who do not register through a club pay a $100 fee that does not come back to the local club.
The Snow-Bounders have about 200 members and four groomers. Their latest purchase was a used groomer costing about half as much as a new $250,000 grooming machine.
Hill also keeps members of the Cattaraugus County Snowmobile Federation up to date on any new state policy that affect the group, and safety and grooming issues.
The Snow-Bounders’ trails extend over the property of more than 300 landowners. Without them, Hill notes, the trails would not exist. At Easter time, club members deliver hams or turkeys to the participating landowners as an annual thank you. The club send out an annual request to renew trail agreements.
“You really have to get out and start putting signs up before October,” Hill said in an interview. Trail areas that cross unharvested fields cannot be signed until after the harvest — and before hunting season.
Volunteers are the backbone of every snowmobile club, Hill said. The problem is that often there aren’t enough of them. “If you ride, you should participate if you can,” she added.
Volunteers found them themselves hauling gravel and rebuilding some bridges that were washed out by heavy fall rains, she said. There are always fallen trees that need to removed from the trail before opening day too.
It’s important to stay on the signed trail systems, not only for safety purposes, but because snowmobiles can damage a landowner’s property.
“People always call and ask if the trails will be open on opening day,” Hill said. The trouble with not being able to get out onto the snowmobile trails until Dec. 20 is that any snow can’t be packed down and groomed, Hill said.
“The ground is soft underneath the snow,” she said. “We need to go through with a groomer with no drag just to start packing down the snow.” New snow can later be groomed.
The problem in the past few years is that there has been plenty of snow before the trails opened, Hill said. Then, after the trails could open, things warmed up and the snow melted. It was sometimes weeks before there was enough snow to open the trails again — if only for a few days.
Most of the snowmobile clubs have websites which note whether the trails are open and the conditions. The Cattaraugus County Economic Development, Planning and Tourism’s website at www.enchantedmountains.com has links to the clubs’ websites.
“We’re hoping for a good year,” Hill said.