Snowmobile enthusiasts are of course marking the days on the calendar until Dec. 18, the first most snowmobile trails are permitted to open.
But they are also praying for cold weather and snow to make the most of their winter season after some disappointing years.
Cattaraugus County snowmobile clubs are also adjusting to the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic and developing protocols on how to safely deal with concerns.
The Snow Bounders club in Little Valley is an example. Snow Bounders vice president Chad Erlandson said the club planned to meet Monday to finalize its COVID-19 rules — before the trails open.
One concern is the groomer, which Snow Bounders staff with two operators in somewhat close quarters.
“That’s something we’re going to talk about,” Erlandson said in a recent interview. “We’re going to get a game plan together.”
Before deer season started, some members were out on the 80 miles of trail the Snow Bounders maintain, cutting trees, repairing bridges, clearing culverts and, most importantly, putting up signs.
Club members doing trail maintenance wear masks when they cannot work apart.
“About half the trails are signed now,” Erlandson said. “Some landowners don’t want us out working on the trails during deer season. We’ll have to wait until after hunting season to put up the rest of the signs.”
The Snow Bounders trail system in and around Little Valley currently includes the Pat McGree Trail, a 12.2-mile former railroad bed from Salamanca to Cattaraugus.
“We have 15 active members,” Erlandson said. “We are always looking for new help on the trails and new members.”
Signs for restaurants and bars on maps and at trailheads are always a welcome sign for snowmobilers.
Erlandson said it’s not known yet just which restaurants will be open along the trails in the county at this point — or which ones will be just take-out.
Once the trails open, word gets around quickly about what’s open.
There are about 450 miles of maintained snowmobile trails in Cattaraugus County including around 90 in Allegany State Park. The trail systems often connect with each other and with trails in Allegany, Erie and Chautauqua counties.
The county snowmobile clubs are concerned with the safety of local families and tourists on their trails — a concern that has only increased with COVID-19.
Officials emphasize that following posted trail signs — including speed signs and a dose of common sense — are the best way to assure a safe snowmobiling experience. The signs can alert a snowmobiler to a trail closure, reroute or hazards. Trail conditions can change daily, even hourly.
Most snowmobile clubs post trail conditions on their websites or Facebook pages.
Maps of the county snowmobile trails are available through the Cattaraugus County website at cattco.org and the county’s Department of Economic Development, Planning and Tourism.
The Cattaraugus County Sheriff’s Office has a Snowmobile Patrol Unit that can often be found on snowmobile trails and at special winter events.
The following snowmobile clubs are currently operating in the county: Ashford Snowmobile Club, Elibomwons Snowmobile Club, Enchanted Mountains Border Riders Club, Franklinville Snowmobile Club, Portville Snowmobile Club, Rushford Snowmobile Club, Snow Bounders, Southern Tier Snow Drifters and the Tri-County Drifthoppers.