Grooming’s done; Snow’s here; ANF trails open this weekend

Winter means time for snowmobiles and, on the Allegheny National Forest (ANF), the first of the season is opening day.

Saturday, Dec. 21, marks the first day of winter and the U.S. Forest Service has decided it’s also the day the ANF will open to snowmobiles.

For those looking to hit the trails, the ANF offers plenty of space.

The Allegheny Snowmobile Loop (ASL) consists of 115.3 miles of trails, including 58.8 miles which are shared use.

“(The) ASL is attractive for its mileage and the fact that it is a loop,” according to Public Affairs Specialist with the ANF Kathy Mohney. “The majority of designated snowmobile trails are located on shared use roads.”

Despite having to share the roads, snowmobilers shouldn’t need to worry about other uses interfering with the suitability of trails.

“During snowmobile season, we work cooperatively with timber contractors and oil and gas operators to insure that they can plow and sand the roads for the safety of their trucks, while still leaving adequate snow cover for snowmobile use,” Mohney said. “One way of addressing those issues on shared use winter recreation roads is through contract specifications that encourage operators to leave at least four inches of snow on these roads for grooming and snowmobile use. We encourage anyone traveling Forest Service system roads to always keep their headlights on for visibility to other vehicle including large haul trucks, snowmobiles and groomers.”

Maintaining the trails, according to Mohney, is a joint effort.

“We receive money from the PA DCNR (Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources) from snowmobile registrations for grooming the trails,” she said. “Grooming is performed by contract and local snowmobile clubs.”

Ed Atwood with the Tionesta Valley Snowmobile Club said he’s looking forward to a good year, thanks in part to a lot of hard work in the off-season.

“I did another trail project,” Atwood said. “I did about $10,000 worth of trail work this year. The trails should be in half-way decent shape because we’ve done a lot of work on them. The spring flooding washed a lot out, but we’ve done a lot of work on them.”

Mohney recognized the effort local snowmobile clubs put into making sure trails are available and maintained.

“Our local snowmobile clubs put a lot of effort into summer maintenance,” she noted, “to make sure the trails are ready for grooming and riding.”

Atwood said snowmobiling on state forest lands began in Pennsylvania on Dec. 15, with the exception of state game lands, which open Dec. 19.

Atwood also said his organization is always looking for interested individuals.

“Tionesta Valley Snowmobile Club’s always looking for new members, help and volunteers,” he noted.

Mohney noted snowmobiling is just one winter recreation opportunity on the ANF.

“Winter recreation opportunities include snowmobiling and ATV motorized trail riding, cross country ski trails, winter camping and plowed access points to the Allegheny Reservoir for ice fishing,” she said.

Atwood and Mohney offered some tips for snowmobilers:

Stay on trails.

“Riding off trail can cause damage to the environment,” Mohney noted, “particularly at stream crossings.”

Watch your speed.

“Excessive speed is one of the most common causes of snowmobile accidents,” a Tionesta Valley Club press release said. “Stay within a reasonable speed for the existing trail conditions. Slow down and provide a measure of safety for everyone around you.”

Stay to the right.

“As when driving an automobile, always stay to the right,” the release said. “Give opposing traffic their side of the trail.”

Ride defensively.

“We can do everything right and still be involved in an accident because someone else was driving poorly,” the release noted. “Don’t let the poor judgment of others injure you. Expect the unexpected.”

Know your limits, both your abilities and your snowmobile’s and don’t exceed them.

Know you riding area.

Wear appropriate gear, including gloves, helmets, snowmobile clothing and appropriate face/eye protection.

Ride responsibly.

“Most snowmobile accident fatalities can be directly linked to the use of alcohol,” the release warned.

Watch for groomers.

“Keep an eye out for groomers, working the trail at night from Thursday through Monday,” Mohney said. “Night time is the best time to groom, so extra caution should be used during this time.”

All snowmobiles used on the ANF must be registered with the state and have proof of liability insurance.