The Tug Hill earned a reputation as the “snowiest place” east of the Mississippi, and that has helped communities build their winter economies around many different outdoor activities
By Norah Machia
Looking for a fun and healthy way to beat those winter blues? The Tug Hill region, covering parts of Oswego, Oneida, Jefferson and Lewis counties, could be your answer.
Located between Lake Ontario and the Adirondacks, the region is known for record-breaking snowfalls, providing the perfect setting for winter recreational enthusiasts. There is usually enough snow on the ground throughout the season to create a perfect winter playground.
The Tug Hill Plateau is the area with the highest elevation and record-breaking snowfalls. It has earned a reputation as the “snowiest place” east of the Mississippi, and that has helped rural Tug Hill communities build their winter economies around many different outdoor activities.
But as the days get shorter and the temperature drops, it’s often difficult for people to keep motivated to exercise and remain active during the winter months, especially in the outdoors.
For the first time this year, the Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust will offer a Winter Fun Challenge to encourage people of all ages to participate in outdoor winter activities while discovering the region’s beautiful scenery and natural resources.
In many ways, the winter time is one of the best seasons to explore the Tug Hill region, said Linda Gibbs, community programs director for the nonprofit land trust.
“It offers such a different experience than warmer seasons,” she said. “It can be so peaceful with snow lightly falling or on a sunny day with the snow sparkling. It can be magical.”
The Winter Fun Challenge officially kicks off on Dec. 1 and will run through April 15. Those interested in participating may register for the Winter Fun Challenge on the land trust’s website. The challenge event runs through mid-April because in the Tug Hill region, it’s not unusual for snow covering to still be on the ground in early spring, according to Gibbs.
Between December and mid-April, those who participate in at least eight activities in the Tug Hill region will earn a special patch or decal to recognize their achievement. (Of course, people are encouraged to participate in as many activities as they wish, said Gibbs).
The Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust has compiled a list of places for snowshoeing, cross-country and downhill skiing, snow-tubing and other non-motorized winter activities that people can enjoy during the cold winter months. These will be posted on the agency’s website, along with the Winter Fun Challenge registration form.
In addition, numerous public parks and lands throughout the Tug Hill region remain open during the winter, and activities on those trails will also count toward the Winter Fun Challenge. A listing of public trails may be found in the official Tug Hill Recreation Guide. Those denoted with a cross-country skier icon indicate they are open during the winter months.
“All we ask is that people send us a list of the places they visited and we’ll send them a patch or decal,” Gibbs said. “But we would also appreciate any photos or stories that people would like to send us as well.”
There are plenty of winter photography opportunities throughout the Tug Hill region. The landscape includes a mix of dense forests, valley farmlands, gorges, large flowing rivers and scenic waterfalls, along with a diverse wildlife habitat.
Photos or stories submitted by participants in any of the four counties will be posted on the agency’s website during the Winter Fun Challenge event.
For those who are not familiar with the region, the Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust is planning several guided outings during the winter season. These will be publicized on the land trust’s website. Participation in those outings will also count toward the Winter Fun Challenge.
“We’re trying to get people out to enjoy the winter,” said Gibbs. “There are so many discoveries to make when snow is on the ground and has transformed everything.”
For example, families with young children may enjoy looking for animal tracks in the snow and trying to identify them. This could become a fun family activity if a printed chart identifying animal tracks is brought along on the outing, she suggested.
“You see things that you never notice or were not evident in other seasons,” Gibbs added. “Then, of course, there’s the joy of bundling up in blankets with a cup of hot chocolate after an outing!”
For more information on the Winter Fun Challenge, visit www.tughilltomorrowlandtrust.org.
A comprehensive list of parks and trails, along with additional information about the Tug Hill region, is also available at www.visittughill.com.
The official Tug Hill Recreation Guide (published by the 1000 Islands Tourism Council) may be found at www.visit1000islands.com/request-a-guide.
(Note: The Tug Hill Recreation Guide includes maps of numerous trails located on state parks and lands throughout the region. While those marked with a cross-country skier icon indicate the trails are open for use during the winter months, it’s best to check out each individual site on the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation website before venturing out to determine which areas have plowed parking lots or groomed trails).