Winter is a great time to get outside and enjoy the abundant recreational activities that the natural resources in Allegany County have to offer. There are over 50,000 acres of DEC managed state lands in the county, which offer great opportunities even throughout the long, cold winter months. As with any time of year, preparedness provides the key to a safe and fun outing, but in winter this becomes all the more critical.
Cross country skiing can be one of the best forms of exercise, and is a way to view the backcountry and observe nature in winter. There are numerous designated ski trails about, particularly on the Phillips Creek and Turnpike State Forests in Ward and West Almond. In addition, many informal trails on state land are open for skiing, as well as seasonal forest roads that are left unplowed in winter. When there is a great enough snow depth, snowshoeing can be another interesting alternative; likewise when there is less snow, this can be one of the best times for hiking – without any specialized equipment, when muddy areas are solid, and the lack of leaves on the trees offer vistas not available the rest of the year.
Be prepared for your outing by telling someone your plans, and knowing the area you will be going to. Carry your phone and a GPS unit, if you have one. Learn to use a map and compass; there is no battery to go dead, and you will have even more confidence as you travel through the woods.
Dress in layers; as you are moving you may want to shed an extra shirt or jacket, but if you stop for a break or get stranded, you will quickly become cold. Hypothermia can easily result this time of year when your body sweats from exercise, and with no means to get dry when you stop. Protect your extremities from frostbite with appropriate cover.
Bring a small day pack with some dry layers, snacks, and a means to start a fire in an emergency, as well as a flashlight with extra batteries. Along with your pack, be sure to carry plenty of water. Dehydration is an often overlooked danger in winter. You may feel less thirsty than you would in summer from the same amount of exertion, but your fluid level must still be maintained.
There are several good bodies of water in Allegany County for ice fishing, with some of the most popular locations being Allen Lake, Cuba Lake, and Alma Pond. Make sure that the ice is safe before you set foot on to it. Lake and pond ice should be at least four to six inches thick to provide a safe layer for pedestrian traffic. This alone does not guarantee safety – avoid locations of moving water underneath the ice, such as springs or outlets, which will weaken even a thickly frozen depth. Slushy and wet areas indicate that the ice may be too thin to support weight due to warming conditions or disturbance. Pockets or edges of open water are also clear signs that the ice may not be safe.
With around 380 miles of groomed trails, Allegany County is a snowmobiler’s paradise. Many of these trails cross state lands, and many more miles have been provided by landowners to ride on private parcels in between. Know your ability and be familiar with the operation of your machine. Travel in at least pairs whenever possible and stick to the designated trails. Do not attempt to cross frozen lakes or ponds. Be prepared as with any other outing.
The Allegany County Federation of Snowmobilers is made up of eleven local chapters. Their members volunteer to maintain the extensive network of trails. They can provide information on any locally scheduled safety courses.
Remember that operating a snowmobile when under the influence of alcohol or drugs can be just as deadly as driving a motor vehicle. It can be fun to stop at one of the many establishments along the trails and enjoy a meal or refreshments, but please do so responsibly!
New York State Forest Rangers are police officers of the Division of Forest Protection, within the Department of Environmental Conservation, and are members of the Partners for Prevention in Allegany County. For more information, please reference the phone numbers and websites below.
Forest Rangers: 585-415-1521, 585-403-9574
DEC Lands and Forests office: 585-466-3241