Winter sports big business in Oswego County

By Debra J. Groom

When the snowflakes are falling in Oswego County, that also means dollar bills are falling into area cash registers.

Winter activities such as snowmobiling and cross country skiing are big business in Oswego County, bringing out not just the locals looking for some fun but also people from all areas of the Northeast seeking that great winter getaway.

The Oswego County Department of Community Development, Tourism and Planning estimates the total economic impact of snowmobiling alone in the county to be about $30 million during a good winter.

Janet Clerkin, speaking for Oswego County Tourism, said the state Snowmobile Association estimates snowmobilers spend between $106 and $113 per day while snowmobiling in NYS, and they spend about 21 days snowmobiling.

In 2011 there were 10,947 snowmobiles registered in Oswego County: 6,718 non-residents, and 4,229 Oswego County residents.

In addition to snowmobiling, there is cross country skiing, ice fishing and even driftboat fishing in which anglers from all over come to town searching for those huge steelheads.

All of these people are spending money in the area at restaurants, gas stations, parts stores and motels. And sales tax and bed tax money from these visitors goes directly into the coffers of the county and other municipalities to help pay for services for residents.

Carolyn Rees, president of the Winona Forest Recreation Association, said the snowmobiling trails in the Redfield area “are awesome,” considering the area has been socked with more than 200 inches of snow so far this year.

“We got about 9 to 10 feet prior to the rain coming,” she said of the couple of weeks before Christmas. “We’ve probably got another 2 or so feet here now.”

Weather observer Carolyn Yerdon, from Redfield, said the area has seen 202 inches of snow so far this season and the snow banks are huge. She said so far, the area is on tap to set a record for snowfall this year.

Rees said snowmobiling and other sports, like the popular cross country skiing and snowshoeing in the Winona Forest Recreation Area, are “a big deal.”

Just for snowmobiling, she estimates hundreds of thousands of dollars are generated just in the northern part of Oswego County. “Snowmobiling brings in a ton of money statewide and Tug Hill-wide,” she said.

Other areas of the county that haven’t seen the huge snowfall of the Redfield area are grooming their trails after last week’s storm.

Mike Schmid, trail coordinator for the Fulton Area Snow Travelers club, said the Fulton club has one 32-mile trail that links areas to the west in Hannibal and Sterling to the east side of Fulton.

From there, snowmobilers can get to Central Square and head east to Oneida County or head north to the Tug Hill.

“Snowmobilers tend to spend a lot of money,” he said. “They buy fuel, food, drinks.”

In Fulton, up to 4,000 people show up for the Great Eastern Whiteout, a weekend of snowmobile events including an antique snowmobile show. This year, the event is set for Feb. 8.

Schmid said organizers hope for Lake Neatahwanta to freeze enough so the popular snowmobile races on the lake can return to the event.

Oswego County launched a snowmobiling app for smartphones and other electronic devices in the fall of 2012 to make it easier for snowmobilers to find the best places to sled in Oswego County.

“The latest numbers show there were more than 5,000 users who had downloaded the app from all over New York state, 12 other states and Canada,” Clerkin said. “There were 29,000 sessions on the app between October 2012 and October 2013.”

Kevin Davis, who runs Catch the Drift Guide Service in Oswego, said he has people coming in from throughout the east coast — from Maine to the Carolinas — to fish the Oswego River in the winter months.

He even has a group that comes in every April from California to take two driftboat charters with him.

“I work with the Quality Inn for my fishermen — it comes out to about $90 a day for rooms,” he said.

Add to that money for meals in Oswego restaurants, gas to drive here and other expenses and that’s a lot of green going into Oswego-area cash drawers.

The same is true over on the Salmon River. Andrew Bliss, owner of Chasin’ Tail Adventures, said he has poeple coming in from Maine to Maryland looking to driftboat fish for steelhead.

And these anglers are dropping about $300 a day to do so, he estimates.

People from all across  New York and from outside also flock to northern Oswego County each year for the Winona Forest Tourathon cross country ski event. It is scheduled for Feb. 22 and consists of races of 12.5 kilometers, 25K, 37.5K and 50K.

These out-of-town folks are usually in town for a few days, adding to money being spent at area businesses.

And Clerkin said the Sandy Pond Sportsman’s Association conducts ice fishing events “almost every weekend” during the winter.

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