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Winona Forest officials, area business owners hope for snow in coming season

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LORRAINE — As winter nears, business owners and nonprofit trail officials around Winona State Forest are staying positive that their trails will be usable and events can take place.

“We are preparing for a good season,” said Carolyn K. Rees, president of the Winona Forest Recreation Association.

Last winter, the lack of snow led the association to close several trails in the forest, which is in both Jefferson and Oswego counties, and in the process the association took a major hit financially.

“Last year was pretty much a wash,” Ms. Rees said. “No events, no nothing.”

Several prominent events, including the Winona Forest Tourathon in March, were canceled. Additionally, the association, which is reimbursed by the state for its trail-clearing work, lost about 70 percent of its funding in 2011-12 from the previous year.

Trail associations are reimbursed for their work the previous season by the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, through a shared trail development and maintenance account. The fund is supported by snowmobile registration fees.

Ms. Rees said that with many people waiting until snowfall to register for the association, her group lost money in registrations.

Despite the problems last year, she said, the association has a lot to be positive about, as it just finished its rehabilitation of the Winona Way, Alice’s Alley and Musher Ridge trails. The association used more than $16,000 in materials and more than 400 hours of labor to fix up the trails during the six-year project.

“The trails are phenomenal,” Ms. Rees said. “Conditions are excellent at this point for any kind of activity, even without the snow.”

Some businesses also are looking for increased snow after taking a hit last season.

“Every year we used to have snow at Christmas,” said Linda S. Harris, co-owner of Harris Lodging, Sandy Creek. “Last year, we didn’t.”

While the lodge retained many regular ski groups that had booked their stays earlier in the year, Mrs. Harris said, it missed out on other travelers who would have come to the area with better conditions.

“It was slow,” she said.

The benefits of the state’s snowmobiling business were highlighted in October, when a study from the New York State Snowmobile Association showed the sport had an annual economic impact of about $868 million.

In the Tug Hill region, which includes the forest area, the annual total was estimated at $165 million.

Dominic J. Jacangelo, executive director of the Snowmobile Association, said much of the season’s success will depend on the weather.

“There’s no doubt we’re a sport dependent on nature,” he said. “It has to snow for us to have any activity.”

Mr. Jacangelo said he expected a lot of activity for trails and nearby businesses once snow falls.

“Everybody I’ve spoken to can’t wait for it to snow,” he said.

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