By Rick Miller
That collective sigh of relief heard across Cattaraugus County over the weekend was from snow-starved, die-hard snowmobilers hitting the trails for the first time this season.
The general snowstorm that struck Western New York on Saturday left enough snow in its wake to open hundreds of miles of snowmobile trails in the county, including Allegany State Park.
Dozens of businesses that depend on snowmobile traffic, from restaurants and bars to gas stations and grocery stores, and their employees, are grateful for the snow, too.
For snowmobile owners who have been waiting since Dec. 19 for the snowmobile trails to open, it’s been a long five-week ordeal.
Before this storm, there was never enough snow to groom, let alone open up the trails, which cross hundreds of landowners’ properties. Most areas of the county got 12 to 18 inches of snow.
“We opened up on Sunday,” said Cathy Hill, vice president in charge of trails for the Cattaraugus County Snowmobile Federation. “We got a lot of snow on Saturday and were able to groom so we could open Sunday. The grooming helps pack the snow down” and make for a better, safer ride.
“I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we don’t lose too much snow to the upcoming warm weather,” Hill said Tuesday, referring to the warmup forecast for today. “I don’t think it’s going to hurt us too bad.”
Hill said, “Everybody was very happy to see the snow. The local businesses are tickled. We lost the last weeks of December and the first part of January.”
Now that trails have opened, it’s important to ride safely, Hill said. “No matter how experienced you are, take it easy. Use your head, not your thumb (throttle).”
Most accidents involve speed, she said. “Take it easy.”
At the Cattaraugus County Department of Economic Development, Planning and Tourism, Jacquie Gardner works to update the department’s website at enchantedmountains.com and its Facebook pages now that the snowmobile trails are open. Riders can also call (800) 331-0543 (option 3) for snowmobile conditions and trail openings and closings.
“You have to be very, very cautious right after the trails open,” Gardner said. “It’s early in the season. Most trails are in fair condition. Be sure to use caution. Respect landowners and stay on trails.”
Gardner said there are slightly more trails than last year, which are detailed in a new brochure. Call the toll-free number or go online for a free map.
This weekend, New York state is sponsoring its annual Free Snowmobile Weekend for out-of-state snowmobilers. Their sleds need to be registered and insured in their home state. New York waives its registration for this weekend, Gardner said.
Allegany State Park opened its snowmobile trails on Sunday as well. The trails have not been groomed and are officially listed in “poor condition.”
Kathleen Boger, state park manager of the Quaker Area, said, “Conditions may affect your snowmobile handling. Ride with caution” while obeying speed limits on park roads.
“We continue to assess the trails for downed trees/limbs due to heavy snowfall and continuing wind,” she said.
Report any trail issues to park police at 354-9111.