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A participant in the 2018 Stonewall Snowshoe competition organized by Winona Forest Recreation Association. It’s one of the many ways people can enjoy snowshoeing in Oswego County.

Best Foot Forward: Snowshoeing in Oswego County

By Tim Nekritz

While the sport of snowshoeing is too granular and off-the-radar an activity to have a specific economic impact measured at this time, events around the county bring in plenty of dollars for gas, food and lodging in their localities. In addition, some community businesses serve the sport directly.

It’s no secret that Oswego County has an abundance of natural beauty throughout its geography. It’s also no secret that we get a lot of snow.

What seems like more of a secret is how easy it is to make the most of it via snowshoeing.

Whether doing a one-time rental, taking a guided excursion or buying to become a regular, opportunities to snowshoe are as abundant as the rolling hills and pristine valleys that dot the county.

From the Amboy 4-H Environmental Education Center to Winona State Forest Recreation Area, with many letters of the alphabet and parts of the region in between, the Oswego County website features 14 recommended areas for snowshoeing and skiing, while some local knowledge will unearth many more.

The Amboy center, off Route 183 and part of the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Oswego County, offers snowshoes for adults, youths and toddlers to explore its acreage, providing guided walks on snowshoes for schools, youth organizations, church groups and the general public. Wooden snowshoes can accommodate adults and youths, with toddlers wearing small aluminum frame snowshoes.

“These two-hour long programs include a short indoor lecture on the history of snowshoeing, explanation of why there are different shapes and styles of snowshoes and how they function differently,” said Linda Brosch, 4-H team coordinator for the Amboy 4-H Environmental Education Center. “After snowshoes are strapped on, the groups head out into the facility’s woodland. Some snowshoeing is completed on the trail system but there are opportunities for bushwhacking off trail.”

Brosch said people of all ages and athletic abilities take advantage of these offerings on many of the environmental education center’s 150 acres. “A person does not have to be a marathon runner to participate,” Brosch said. “Hiking poles or ski poles can be used to provide more stability.”

One of the more vast — and sometimes competitive — opportunities takes place in the Winona State Forest Recreation Area, with more than 9,000 acres on the county’s northern border with Jefferson County.

“Winona Forest is one of the snowiest places east of the Rockies with an average snow fall of 250 inches per year,” the county notes on its website. “ In winter, the prevailing westerly winds move cold winter air over the warm water of Lake Ontario producing massive lake effect snow falls on the Winona Forest in the Tug Hill area.”

While this is not as fun if you’re trying to clear your sidewalk or driveway, it’s extremely enjoyable for outdoors enthusiasts. In addition to boundless opportunities for individuals and families to check out the woods, the Winona Forest Recreation Association stages a variety of special events.

These include the Stonewall Snowshoe 5K and 10K in late January. “Consistently one of the biggest snowshoe events in the USA, the 10,000 acres of Winona Forest is the perfect venue for this Tug Hill event,” the race’s website noted. “[F]or those trying this snowshoe race for the first time, you will not be disappointed by the great trails, big snows and plenty of like-minded adventurous winter enthusiasts to share the day, and make memories.” The race even rents light racing snowshoes for a small fee to invite participation.

On the more casual side, SUNY Oswego’s Rice Creek Field Station has trails open to snowshoers from dawn until dusk on a daily basis. On Saturdays, visitors can borrow snowshoes for free, although only adult sizes are available at this time.

On many of those Saturdays when there is snow cover, Rice Creek Ramble nature hikes provide guided snowshoe walks with a naturalist “covering topics like identifying mammal tracks, winter bird identification and winter tree identification,” said Kristen Haynes, assistant director of Rice Creek Field Station. “Our naturalists can tailor the walk to participants’ interests and abilities.”

The center has added events like a snowshoe owl prowl, where attendees can enjoy the winter wonderland while listening and watching for these majestic winter birds, and a Celebrate Snow festival with abundant family activities to better introduce the public to some of the field station’s 300 acres.

Snowshoes mean business

While the sport of snowshoeing is too much an off-the-radar an activity to have a specific economic impact measured at this time, events around the county bring in plenty of dollars for gas, food and lodging in their localities. In addition, some community businesses serve the sport directly.

At Murdock’s Bicycles and Sports, beginners and enthusiasts have provided pretty consistent business the last few years, said Greg Mills, who owns the shop on Oswego’s West First Street.

“There really isn’t a specific age group or demographic for the people purchasing or interested in snowshoeing,” said Mills, who sells Atlas and Tubbs snowshoes and poles. “I would categorize buyers as people looking for a way to enjoy winter, exercise and find another reason to be outdoors. Snowshoeing does not require any refined athletic ability. If you want to be outside during the winter, it is a great way to be outside and an easy activity to get started.”

For those not yet sure if the sport is for them, Mills offers rentals as well. “If someone is considering snowshoeing as a form of exercise and enjoying winter, I would suggest they stop in and rent a pair of snowshoes and give it a try,” he said. “If they enjoy it and want to make it a part of their winter exercise routine, we will apply the rental fee towards the purchase of a pair of snowshoes.”

Oswego Expeditions, run by Jennifer Mays and based out of the Port City, provides a variety of options for all ages.

“We offer snowshoe rentals, guided river and canal treks, group snowshoeing [age 4 and up] and adult group treks,” Mays said.

“As an outdoor enthusiast who loves the waterfront, I feel the opportunity to snowshoe on the greenspaces overlooking Lake Ontario and along the Oswego Canal is a unique experience to be had by all,” Mays said. “As a business owner, I think East and West Linear Parks have the potential to be marked and maintained for winter recreation, drawing visitors and locals to our waterfront during the winter months to safely experience snowshoeing, fat biking, cross country skiing and more.”

One of the unusual challenges for the 2019-20 season for businesses and recreation sites alike was a lack of snow for much of December and January. But a snow-dependent sport in Oswego County will always have some kind of season.

Advice to get started

Polled on advice for getting started, respondents offered plenty of tips and observations.

“Recreational snowshoeing is a sport or activity that anyone can participate in,” Brosch noted.

“If a person is just getting started, I would suggest that they attend a guided snowshoe program such as the Woodland Snowshoe Wanders at the Amboy 4-H Environmental Education Center to see if they like the sport,” she said. “Snowshoes are sized by weight, not foot size. Once snowshoes are purchased, fit them to your boots before you are outside at the trailhead. This will save a person a lot of time.”

Getting started is “very easy,” Haynes noted “All you have to do is strap on the snowshoes and start walking!”

She cautioned that snowshoeing is “a little more strenuous than walking,” but once somebody gets comfortable on snowshoes, they can start taking on hillier terrain or faster paces to get a really good workout.

“There are a few distinct styles of snowshoe available, so I suggest renting or borrowing a pair first before buying,” Haynes added. “In terms of footwear, choose comfortable, waterproof or water-resistant boots. If you’ll be in deep snow, consider wearing snow pants or gaiters.”

She reminds people that one might sink a bit in deep snow, but not to panic if this happens. “The snowshoe is designed to help you sink less, and also to help you grip the snow surface via the crampons on the bottom of the shoe,” Haynes noted. “Snowshoes work well on fluffy and packed snow because of these different advantages  ‘buoyancy’ and grip.”

For Mills, the abundant natural resources and easy entry into the sport makes it a natural activity for Oswego County.

“Snowshoeing is an easy way to get outside and explore our beautiful area at a pretty inexpensive price,” Mills said. “Find a place you want to hike, pull your car over, slap on a pair of snowshoes and take a hike. You don’t need groomed trails, a ski resort or a dedicated trail system. You could snowshoe almost anywhere.”

Tim NekritzTim Nekritz is director of news and media for SUNY Oswego, where he spearheads telling the stories of the campus community.