Volunteers are keeping sections of the rail trail good for cross country skiing

Ontario Pathways, a 25-mile system of recreation trails in Ontario County, is a good choice this season for cross-country skiers. Not only have the recent snows left a nice base, but volunteers have been braving the cold to keep two sections of the trail groomed.

Getting attention early this week was the Canandaigua leg of the trail from the Ontario Street parking lot in Canandaigua to the Depot Road parking lot in Aloquin. A distance of 7.5 miles of groomed trail, it offers parking lots at both ends as well at trailheads along the section.

A second section being groomed is on the Phelps leg of the trail from the parking lot on Route 96 past Griffith Road and Wheat Road, to the dead end at Route 488. This is about 2.5 miles of groomed trail.

On Tuesday, just days after last weekend’s big snow storm, Ontario Pathways board member Keith Turner, wife Sue and others with the organization came out to show what’s been done. Of course, with the changeable weather, grooming is ongoing. The group is happy to have a second barn that was built for them by BOCES students at the dead end of Depot Road, to house equipment.

“The response has been very positive,” Sue said. “We have some regular skiers who appreciate having a trail set for them, particularly when the snow is deep.”

Ontario Pathways is using a donated snowmobile and shared tow-behind groomer. This is the first winter the nonprofit has had the equipment and as of Tuesday, grooming had been done twice so far.

The rails-to-trails organization had been discussing for awhile the possibility of grooming the trail for cross-country skiers when board member Barbara Allen arranged to have a snowmobile donated by Amanda Hurley of Drumlin Farms in Mendon. The board then discussed purchasing a trail groomer, but they were hesitant because the cost of new ones is extremely high. Then last summer, more good news: Todd Freelove and Sarah Lewis, from the Clifton Springs YMCA, informed Ontario Pathways that someone had donated a trail groomer to them and the Y was willing to share it.

The trail has a history dating back to the railroad heyday in Ontario County. The two “legs” of Ontario Pathways, the Canandaigua Leg and the Phelps Leg, are both rail corridors dating back to the mid 1800’s. Ontario Pathways was incorporated in 1994, purchasing from the Penn Central Corporation many of the sections that make up the trail today. With exceptions, previously sold sections were able to be bought back from land owners and/or Pathways was able to obtain easements.

Ontario Pathways is comprised of a 23.3-mile multi-use rails-to-trail. Think hiking, bicycling, running, jogging, horseback riding, plus hobbies such as birding, geocaching, letterboxing and botanical walks. Winter months include snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Additional three-loop trails of 1.7 miles are for hiking only.

Ontario Pathways Inc. is a privately owned, all-volunteer non-profit organization governed by a Board of Directors with a membership of about 300. For more information and map of the trial, visit www.ontariopathways.org, or call and leave questions at 585-234-7722.