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Warm temps put some of county's free winter activities on hold

Those new ice skates, sleds and toboggans under the Christmas tree?

There are plenty of outside places to use them, but maybe not until the New Year arrives.

Unseasonable warmth will sweep through the Buffalo Niagara region over the next few days, putting a big dent – perhaps even eliminating – the nearly seven-inch snow pack still left from last week's lake-effect storm.

Saturday's temperature is expected to reach 40 degrees with some morning rain showers. Then comes a sunny, 35-degree Christmas Day.

The real warm-up comes on Monday when the thermometer reaches into the 50s for the first time in December.

The average daily high temperature this time of year is in the low 30s.

Even though this holiday weekend might be more wet than wintry, the freezing temps and snow will eventually return.

For many, that means hitting Erie County Parks for no-cost winter activities, including ice skating, sledding, cross-country skiing, snow shoeing and tobogganing.

The parks are open from dawn to dusk – or even later – seven days a week through the winter season. And it's all free.

The county has spent money in recent years on its 13 parks, including more than $5,000 to add fencing and lighting to the Como Lake Park sledding hill in Lancaster. The 50-foot hill has a 200-foot slope, said Commissioner of Parks, Recreation and Forestry Daniel J. Rizzo. The lighting will make it possible for the hill to remain open until 8:30 p.m., weather permitting, similar to other lighted sledding, skiing and ice-skating venues at other county parks.

Beyond tobogganing in Chestnut Ridge Park (which is closed until the next hard freeze), golf courses have been converted to groomed cross-country ski trails, two parks offer ice rinks and several more offer snowboarding options.

Rizzo expressed disappointment about the above-freezing temperatures forecast for the next few days, but he remains hopeful that colder temps and winter conditions will return. In the meantime, winter hikes and playgrounds remain as options.

Another storm system Tuesday has the potential to bring limited lake-effect snow showers to the region, but daytime temperatures through the balance of the week are forecast to be in the mid to upper 30s.

A dramatic turn back to the cold is showing up on forecast models as early as New Year's Eve with chilly and snowy conditions expected over the first few days of 2017.

"Like everything else, we’re at the mercy of Mother Nature," Rizzo said. "Hopefully, next week, when the kids are on vacation, the weather turns."

The county keeps an updated website list every day of winter activities open in each park. Given the unpredictable winter conditions over the coming days, it's worth checking the county parks website www2.erie.gov/parks and clicking on the "Winter Sports" link to get the latest information on what's open. Most parks offer snowshoeing and ungroomed cross-country skiing.

Other county park activities available, dependent on weather:

Akron Falls (Akron): Sledding, ice skating, snowboarding

Chestnut Ridge (Orchard Park): Sledding, snowboarding, tobogganing

Como Lake (Lancaster): Sledding, ice skating

Ellicott Creek (Town of Tonawanda): Sledding, snowboarding

Elma Meadows Golf Course (Elma): Sledding, groomed cross-country skiing, snowboarding

Emery (South Wales): Downhill skiing, snowboarding

Grover Cleveland Golf Course (Amherst): Groomed cross-country skiing

Sprague Brook (Glenwood): Sledding, groomed cross-country skiing, snowboarding

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