At any given time, snowmobiles were lined up by the dozens at the county firemens grounds as club officials gave guests the chance to watch the groomers in action or tag along for the ride.
One of the groomers was a 1999 VMC O4W that the Chautauqua Lake Snowmobile Club recently acquired. According to Ray Head, federation president, the clubs groomer fleet has grown in recent years and now includes five large-scale turbo-charged vehicles, which cost as much as $80,000 second-hand.
He gives the state a lot of credit for the strength of snowmobile clubs. The state collects money through snowmobile registration fees and passes it back to the clubs. The state also adopted a two-tier registration fee system to boost club membership throughout New York.
In the last three years, weve grown thanks to snowmobile registration, Head said.
Registration fees across the state are $45 for club members and $100 for non-members, and since club dues are only $30 joining a club saves snowmobilers $25 if they register one vehicle. They save even more if they register two or more vehicles.
Club dues help pay for the equipment the clubs need to maintain the trails. They help pay for the groomers, which pack and smooth the snow, as well as bridges, signs and other trail necessities.
The clubs themselves are responsible for maintaining the hundreds of miles of trails that wind their way through the Chautauqua County landscape, but the sport would be completely different if it werent for the hundreds of landowners who allow snowmobilers to ride through their property.
Wed be riding in our backyards if it werent for landowners, said Steve Smith, Chautauqua Lake Snowmobile Club vice president. We wouldnt have anything.
Head describes it as amazing that landowners allow snowmobile trails to be set up through their property for free. There is an upside to the practice, though. Snowmobiling brings nearly $1 billion into the state every year. Without the trail network, businesses from Findley Lake to Silver Creek would lose millions of dollars annually.
They really do get financial compensation, Head said. A percent of that sales tax money goes back to the town highway department, for instance.
The Chautauqua County Snowmobile Federation, which organizes the annual Ride-In event, represents the countys six snowmobile clubs.