The throttle is wide open for snowmobilers in Cattaraugus County, where 415 miles of groomed trails will open as soon as the snow conditions are right.
About 100 enthusiasts of the sport, snowmobile club leaders, state parks officials and county Tourism and Economic Development Department trail program sponsors took advantage of the warm season to hold a forum Saturday at Ischua Valley Country Club here, a busy snowmobile trailhead.
Panelist Hal Fleishman, president of the New York State Snowmobile Association, offered words of encouragement for the area's future business growth based on snowmobiles in Western New York.
"New York is woefully behind in snowmobile tourism. But we are a viable market. This area has the potential to become the snowmobile capital of Western New York. It has the best trails. This place is just ripe for snowmobile tourism," Fleishman said.
Panelist George Couell of the Western New York Snowmobile Club of Boston congratulated the Cattaraugus County Snowmobile Federation for its trail quality and "outdoing Erie County by 99 percent."
"It's due to the dedication of the snowmobile clubs and the commitment of the county government," Couell said.
Robert W. Reinhardt, the director of resource and facility planning and state trails coordinator for the state Office of Parks Recreation and Historic Preservation, reminded those in attendance that there will be less money to go around if new trails continue to be added. He also promised distribution of his agency's new signage guidebook in October and noted plans to provide new junction signs for corridor and secondary trail intersections.
Panelist Janet Tekavek, an Ellicottville restaurant owner, complained that snowmobiles are banned in her village, which is a winter destination.
County Tourism Director Tom Livak said some of the problem is due to prohibited access into the village along a railroad right of way, which several clubs are working to remedy.
Some in the group noted that local clubs need to begin networking to provide links with trails being planned by the Seneca Nation of Indians and with Pennsylvania snowmobilers to overcome obstacles in interstate licensing.
Others stressed the importance of expanding the clubs' emergency rescue capabilities and pointed out that trail access will diminish with growing development pressures and Route 219 expressway construction.
A new law to take effect in the spring establishes rights and responsibilities of operators, and it spells out limitations of liability for landowners. The amendment says sled operators and owners will be held liable for their negligence in causing property damage, death or injury, and property owners -- both those who have granted trail access and those who are victims of trespass -- don't have to keep their land safe for snowmobile riders.
The legislation also establishes a maximum 55-mph trail speed limit, except in areas where conditions warrant a slower rate of travel, and it will likely increase snowmobile club memberships by hiking a new $100 registration fee to a discounted $45 for club members.