By Rick Miller

Whether three feet of snow is on the ground or not, Cattaraugus County’s 350 miles of snowmobile trails couldn’t open until Dec. 18, the day after Big Game Muzzleloading Season ends.

With a recent stretch of warmer, rainy weather, it doesn’t look like the trails will be opening again any time soon.

However, volunteers from the county’s 10 recognized snowmobile clubs tried to get as much of the signage in place on the trails using four-wheelers before New York’s Big Game Season opened Oct. 1.

With Allegany State Park’s nearly 100 miles of groomed snowmobile trails, Cattaraugus County offers more than 450 miles of trails. Just add snow. And grooming. They will come.

Cathy Hill, president of the Cattaraugus County Federation of Snowmobile clubs, was the longtime snowmobile trails coordinator for the county. It was a lot of paperwork, especially getting landowner permission each year.

Hill has been a member of the Snow Bounders for 25 years. The club was formed in 1969. A lot of things have changed since then. The changes have become even more pronounced in the past 10 years.

The biggest changes have been older volunteers opting to spend less time on trail maintenance, Hill said. It’s not just putting up signs. It’s building and maintaining bridges and trails while keeping up good landowner relations.

Her children and grandchildren pitch in to help maintain trails on the Hill property, she said.

The Snow Bounders have about 300 landowners who permit usage of their property for trails.

Last year, the Rushford Snowmobile Club with 15-16 miles of trails in Cattaraugus County, was added to the list of snowmobile clubs. The number of members are fairly constant because there is a huge discount on registration with club membership. That money comes back to the club in the form of grants for trail maintenance or the purchase of grooming equipment.

“The volunteer base is thinning out,” admits Hill. It hasn’t dampened enthusiasm for the sport. There are more sleds than ever on the snowmobile trails that criss-cross the county and businesses located along the route love it.

The trails were developed over 30 years ago and many of the volunteers are in the late 50s and early 60s and looking to step away from more active jobs, Hill explained. The younger generation isn’t stepping up as much as some had hoped.

“You have to take care of the trails,” Hill said. Many will have to wait until Dec. 18. “I don’t like to sign at 30 degrees,” she said as her reason for starting early on her sections of trail. “I try to get everybody to do it.”

Recent snowmobile seasons have been disappointingly short-lived. The snow would melt almost before it could be groomed. It was an on-again, off-again season last year too.

In the early days, trails were more confined to communities. Now, they connect communities and counties. Not everyone is invested in the trail system.

“You can’t keep up with maintenance, but they are great for businesses. They love the winter months. They count on snowmobilers.”

Cattaraugus County snowmobile clubs include:

Ashford Snowmobile Club

Elibomwons Snowmobile Club

Enchanted Mountains Border Riders Club

Franklinville Snowmobile Club

Portville Snowmobile Club

Rushford Snowmobile Club

The Snow Bounders

Southern Tier Snow Drifters

Tri-County Drifthoppers

Western New York Snowmobile Club of Boston.