Volunteers Helping To Expand Equestrian Trail

CHERRY CREEK – The Equestrian Trail is expanding, thanks to the hard work of volunteers.

Chautauqua County equestrian groups have been working to construct sustainable equestrian trails. More than 30 individuals from groups such as Lou Eibl Corral, Bits ‘n Spurs and Chautauqua Trail Riders recently received classroom training from trail building experts. The volunteers then worked to construct trail segments off Lewis Road in the northern section of Boutwell Hills State Forest in Cherry Creek.

“This was a jump-start, really,” said Mark Geise, deputy director of Chautauqua County Department of Planning and Economic Development. “We actually brought in trainers, Bud and Gwen Wills, to train the volunteers in the classroom and in the field. They went in there for two days, learned a lot and built these sustainable trails. They learned various techniques for sustainable building techniques. Since then, (the volunteers) have been out there on their own, using the equipment that the county and the Appalachian Regional Commission funding purchased. So, they’re really doing a great job just upgrading these trails.”

The equipment, materials, training and construction oversight for the Equestrian Trail project have been provided by the county and grants from the ARC. The Equestrian Trail loop, which will stretch more than 35 miles, is being built almost exclusively by volunteers. It uses primarily existing trails, right-of-way and utility corridors. Geise expects the trail to serve as a model for future Equestrian Trail development throughout the county and region.

The proposed loop, located in the Town and Village of Cherry Creek and Town of Charlotte, will connect major hubs by extending from the parking area and trailhead in the northern portion of Boutwell State Forest, south through Boutwell Hill State Forest to Cockaigne Ski Area, east to the Village of Cherry Creek, and return to the northern portion of Boutwell State Forest. It is anticipated that this initiative will be the first step in creating a regional trail network by connecting to the equestrian trails in neighboring Cattaraugus and Allegheny counties, both of which have been actively developing trail systems for more than a decade.

“It’s kind of like the snowmobile trails that are never going to be complete, hopefully, that they just keep building and building and building,” Geise said. “So, you would hope that it would never be complete. At least with this 40-mile loop, which is called the ‘Equestrian Trail System’ loop, we would expect (to be complete) at the end of 2015.”

The county was approved for two separate $150,000 grants from ARC for phases one through three, which is being matched with $300,000 of local cash and in-kind contributions to upgrade a total of 25 miles of trails, existing trailhead, parking areas and road crossings, and install picnic areas, kiosks, trail signage, hitch posts and mounting blocks.

“What’s really exciting is, this is really novel. This doesn’t happen,” Geise said. “Obviously, the snowmobilers have been able to do it, and it took them 20 years to be able to get where they’re at. We’re hoping that we’re starting that same kind of thing here with volunteers. It’s a real partnership between the county, the federal government and our local folks.”

Any comments or questions regarding this project can be addressed to Geise at geisem@co.chautauqua.ny.us or 661-8912. Details regarding the Chautauqua County Equestrian Trail System Plan and other information about the project can be found on the planning website at: www.planningchautauqua.com.