By Mallory Diefenbach
Jack Frost’s icy breath has covered Chautauqua County in a blanket of snow. While many New York drivers bemoan the icy roadways, a group of people cannot wait to venture outside. This group – snowmobilers – support the local businesses and economy during the winter.
“If the snow is good, it’s definitely a big influx in the amount of people we run through here,” said Dan Meccanna, owner of The Springs in Bemus Point. “You kind of depend on it.”
“I appreciate it (the snowmobile business),” said Terry Hall, owner of the Bemus Point Golf Course. “I appreciate them coming.”
Snowmobile trails usually open in December and go into March, depending on the weather. A lack of snowfall, such as in 2011 when the trails were only open for two to three days for the entire season, spells trouble for snowmobilers and businesses alike.
“I think it’s a lot bigger deal than people realize,” said Rick Newell, owner of the Lakeview Hotel and Restaurant and Docks Restaurant in Mayville. “It’s a huge boost to the tourism in the area. We have a lot of people that hear about the snowmobile trails, and never have been in here before. Coming somewhere out of Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Ohio – you know, wherever, and then they come back the following summer because they fell in love with the area.”
“Economically we had better years,” Hall said. “I can’t really say right now because we only had two days of sleds. … It is helpful, very helpful, if we get snow.”
Snowmobilers come to Chautauqua County from as far as Pittsburgh, Cleveland and sometimes farther, according to Newell. They also come in large groups from the Buffalo area.
“The way they (Chautauqua Lake Snowmobile Club) manage the trails over past 10 years it seems to bring a lot of out-of-staters in because there is so much to do,” said Meccanna. “You can go to this restaurant, go to this bed and breakfast. Get gas over here. When the lake is frozen, you can get out on the lake. There is a lot more to do than just restaurants around here.”
Popular food items tend to be comfort foods, such as soups and hot chocolate, or Western New York specialties, like beef-on-weck and wings.
Newell said Presidents Day weekend draws the largest crowd due to a community-built ice castle built on the shore of the lake each year. Depending on the ice, castles can become monstrous at 20 feet high and 100 feet long. Fireworks also draw in others just to see the Fourth Of July-esque display.
“That weekend pretty much all facilities are sold out,” he said. “It’s the southern-most ice castle in North America. Any other place that builds an ice castle is further north than we are.”
The Chautauqua Lake Snowmobile Club, Ellery Sno-Cruisers, Cherry Creek Sno-Goers and Lake Effect Trailbreakers (Sinclairville) manage the trails in Chautauqua County, and urge sledders to check the trails before heading out. County trail conditions can be checked by calling the hotline at 800-242-4569.