By Rick Miller
When you are out on snowmobile trails in Cattaraugus County this winter, remember for a minute the volunteers who help maintain them.
For many years, Cathy Hill of Cattaraugus has served as county snowmobile trail coordinator. It consists of a lot of paperwork.
This season, after 25 years with the Cattaraugus County Snowmobile Federation, she’s backed off from that role. This summer she did a lot of paperwork and helped other volunteers with a lot of trail work. Not all the signs have been put out on the trails yet this year.
“There was a lot of rain this summer,” she said. “We had some bridges wash out. It was a tough summer.”
Hill said some of the Snow-Bounders club secondary trails may close this year because they don’t have enough manpower to maintain them.
Up to 7 miles of trail could close this season. That still leaves 85 miles of trails, down from 110 miles only a few years ago, Hill said.
“It’s not going to affect how you get from point A to point B,” she said, “but some people won’t be able to access the main trail near their homes.”
Hill said she’s checked with other clubs and it’s the same everywhere. “We have the same volunteer base. The younger generation thinks it’s something that happens on its own. Nobody wants to do volunteer work.”
“We’ve probably lost 50 percent of our volunteer base who have retired,” she added. “The most difficult part is not being able to get out on the trails until after deer season.”
Club membership is about the same as in past years, Hill said. Members get a reduced price on their state snowmobile registration.
“It’s been a tough couple of years,” Hill said. “Every time it would snow, it would melt. There was no base. You couldn’t groom.” Club members dream of too much snow to groom.
The trails opened on Dec. 19, but fluctuating temperatures and light snowshowers have made snowmobiling scarce.
There are more than 400 miles of snowmobile trails throughout Cattaraugus County, plus another 75 miles in Allegany State Park. That makes this region a snowmobile destination location.
“When I was younger, you just rode in your own little circles, you didn’t ride from town to town like you do now,” Hill said.
Some trails still need to be signed, she said. You can’t do that during deer season either — or before a cornfield has been harvested. Some sign crews may still be placing signs on trails at the last minute.
Just because the trails opened on Dec. 19 doesn’t mean there was enough snow to groom them, Hill warned. Her husband, Tom, drives one of four groomers the Snow-Bounders own and maintain using state snowmobile grants.
“I’d like to see a decent winter,” Hill said. “Snowmobiling is a costly family sport. The sleds can cost $6,000 to $15,000. The registration is $45 if you belong to a club. Then there’s clothing. Then if it’s a lousy winter and you only get out two or three times.
“It’s nice to drive around in the winter and see 12 to 15 snowmobiles parked outside each location,” she continued. “It’s a boost for the economy. Many restaurants say if it wasn’t for snowmobile season, they wouldn’t stay open. I’d like to see a couple of nice seasons.”