BY MAUREEN PICHÉ
Thanks to the slow start of winter, the head of the county snowmobile association says membership numbers are down by nearly half this year, and that could hurt the local economy.
Deborah Christie, president of the St. Lawrence County Snowmobile Association, said local sled fans are biding their time registering, waiting until the last minute for the white stuff to accumulate and trails to be groomed.
A total of 2,100 snowmobilers registered as county association members last year, but only about half of that number have taken the step this year. This directly affects the amount of state trail fund dollars the association will be eligible to receive this year, since it’s based on registration numbers.
“People are holding off because of the weather,” Christie said. “Basically, we’re at the mercy of Mother Nature. We definitely need more snow.”
While every year varies in season length, Christie admits this is the latest sledders have had to wait in the past four or five years.
And even though there’s snow on the ground now, that doesn’t mean there’s enough. Christie said groomers need about a foot of snow to fall before they can begin using equipment to pack it down and make it rideable.
The cold temperatures right now are good for the trails, she said, because they keep the snow frozen.
Christie pointed out the late start also hurts the county’s tourism economy. Gas stations, motels and other businesses don’t get as much cash flow, there’s less county sales tax generated and the Department of Motor Vehicles loses vehicle registration money.
But Christie and the association haven’t given up hope. By Dec. 10 the crews had finished clearing out brush and debris from still snowless trails. In the southern part of the county from Sevey’s Corner to Cranberry Lake, Tropical Storm Irene left a lot of damage in its wake with trail washouts. Groomers had to push fill back in and repair the trails.
The association has also delivered fuel to the 12 grooming areas spread out throughout the county. The trails are groomed each year by a group of volunteers.
“We’ve got everything in order and we’re just waiting for the snow,” she said.
Members of the county association or any of the 10 clubs throughout the county can check conditions, sign up for membership and get vehicle registration information at the association’s website www.slcsa.org.
According to the St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce website, the county has more than 500 miles of snowmobile trails. Main Adirondack corridors connect to both the north and southeast corners of the county.
The heart of the county's trail system is centered between South Colton and Cranberry Lake in the Adirondack Park.
The Massena area is connected to trails centered in the Brasher State Forest. These trails are crisscrossed by numerous secondary trails.
The association’s website also has a PDF map of the trail system with access and parking areas.