ALFRED — A new group wants to bring trails throughout Allegany County to the attention of the public.
Friends Improving Allegany County Trails Inc. held a trail cleanup at the Phillips Creek State Forest on Sept. 25 and more than 40 people turned out to help.
“We want people to know that the trails are out here,” Glenn Gebhard, president of IMPACT: Friends Improving Allegany County Trails, Inc., said. “They are a wonderful resource for Allegany County. They are beautiful and the fall colors are breathtaking.”
Gebhard lives only a few feet from the Phillips Creek Trail System off Route 244 — west of Alfred — and routinely hikes there.
“We always wondered why they never maintained the trails, then we realized there was no ‘they,’” he said.
In February the group formed to be the “they” and not only maintain the trails, but also to bring awareness to them, improve use and encourage improvements. The trail system is under the jurisdiction of the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
“(The DEC) can go out and bring in people and equipment to remove a downed tree, but they don’t have the people who can go out and groom the trails,” Gebhard said. “We can muster the volunteers.”
The group encourages high school students in need of community service to help out on the trails by contacting IMPACT on Facebook.
This season the group has groomed 7 miles of trail and five people are being trained to operate the equipment needed to prepare the trails for cross country skiing and snowshoeing.
The trails are open year-round for hiking, snowshoeing and cross country skiing. Horses are allowed on the trails from June 1 to Sept. 30, only. Snowmobiling is not allowed on most of the trails.
On the Sept. 25 work day the volunteers, including many college students, turned out to help groom the trails by removing debris, low-hanging branches and other improvements. The group is working with DEC Forester Theresa Draves on maintenance and improvements. The group is also working with students to develop a comprehensive website and a QR code system for trail conditions.
Gebhard said he expects both to be up and working within a few weeks.
The system, he said, will also allow people to leave messages about trail conditions, such as recently washed-out areas or new downed trees, so the group or the DEC can rectify any problems.
IMPACT is a non-profit organization and has no plans for fundraisers, but they are hoping to purchase the two pieces of equipment, a roller and drag, needed to groom the trails for cross-country skiing. The equipment will cost about $6,000 to purchase. Donations for the equipment and maintenance costs are appreciated and may be made on the group’s Facebook page.
The group is also looking for grant opportunities.
While there are no more workdays scheduled for this year, two full moon cross-country skiing events are planned for Jan. 17 and Feb. 16. A general meeting, election of officers and trail cleanup are being scheduled for the last weekend in April.
“We want to urge people to use our trails and get out into the forest to enjoy nature and its beauty and the solitude of a walk in the woods,” Gebhard said. “It is good for the soul.”