Part II – Chautauqua County Snowmobile Trail System
With 450 miles of snowmobile trails in Chautauqua County, even people who don’t participate in the sport are aware of its huge presence. Provided we see favorable weather, this expansive network of trails, second largest in NYS, will attract 15,000 annual riders.
Maintaining the trails requires a lot of time and effort on the part of the five area snowmobile clubs: Chautauqua Lake Snowmobile Club, Ellery Sno-Cruisers, Cherry Creek Sno-Goers, Lake Effect Trailbreakers, and the Sunset Drifters. It is truly a year-round labor of love.
Roughly 90% of the trails run through private land and aside from dealing with the struggles of Mother Nature, the largest task is maintaining relationships with landowners, who can change their stance on permitting their land for snowmobile usage on an annual basis. Ray Head, President of the Chautauqua Snowmobile Federation, emphasized that the best way to foster positive relationships with the landowners is to respect their property. “We try really hard to open the entire trail system as a county. It’s a lot of land and snowfall varies. If Cherry Creek Sno-Goers open their trails but the Sunset Drifters haven’t, we might get riders on unopened trail which can be damaging to the trail and the land-owners’ property, and our relationships.” Opening as a county also requires communication during the off-season, when volunteers are busy re-routing trails, cutting brush, draining wet-spots and building bridges.
Travelers, even those from out-of-state, are encouraged to join a local club and are required by law to register their sled in NYS. The clubs then earn $10 from each registration, they receive a portion of Chautauqua County’s Occupancy Tax, and are eligible for NYS grant monies based on trail lineage. This money is invested into updating equipment and trail maintenance. All volunteer labor done by club members and is completely unpaid.
The Ellery Sno-Cruisers are responsible for maintaining over 70 miles of trails and owns a fleet of three groomers to keep them in tip-top condition. Each one of those groomers can cost upwards of $170,000, used! Grooming itself can be a tireless job summarized by odd hours, cold-weather and physical labor. We asked Bryce Steffen of the Ellery Sno-Cruisers how he got involved, for him it was a matter of growing up around it and other winter sports. He learned a lot of the grooming technique from HoliMont Ski Area in Ellicottville, NY, where he was a ski instructor for several years. Steffen said, “up until about 10-12 years ago, snowmobiling didn’t attract the number of annual visitors is does now. It used to take us all day just to get from Bemus Point to Mayville. Now, with the tireless work of area clubs and modern grooming equipment, you can tour most of the Chautauqua County on a sled. You could even ride a sled all the way across the State to Tug Hill if you wanted.”
Steffen has made snowmobiling his way of life. He’s co-owner of Chautauqua Lake Snowmobile Services, the only local business that offers snowmobile rentals and guided tours. CLSC also offers trailering for broken down sleds and prides themselves on their rapid response to emergency calls.
Both Head and Steffen agree that by far the best part of getting involved with the clubs is promoting Chautauqua County as a destination for snowmobile enthusiasts and the benefits area businesses along the trail reap when we have a good winter. A whole eco-system has sprung up around the trails: bars and restaurants, retail shops, accommodations, a guided cellphone tour by Roger Tory Peterson Institute, and more.
If you’re interested in becoming more involved with a local club, consider participating in the County Wide Ride-In, which attracts up to 500 sleds if conditions allow. The clubs get together at the Stockton Fireman’s Grounds and enjoy good eats from area restaurants along the trails and just catch-up. This year’s event is scheduled for Sunday, February 12th, the day-after the 4th Annual Winterfest which will be held at Bemus Point Golf Course. Snowmobiles are also a centerpiece of the President’s Day Weekend Winter Fest at Mayville Lakeside Park, in addition to several poker rides and ladies-only rides all throughout the season.
And interactive web map and trip planner is available at www.nysnowmobilewebmap.com.com
Other Trail Blazers Blog Posts