For those beginning to feel a bit cooped up as winter reminds northwest Pennsylvania what it is capable of, this weekend offers a terrific chance to get outside and probably the best chance to get out on the water — or even in the water — till summer.
The 43rd annual Winter Fun Day is Saturday at Pymatuning State Park, offering plenty of free family activities, a fishing tournament to benefit the Pymatuning Trail Blazers Snowmobile Club, a Polar Bear Plunge to benefit the American Cancer Society and an evening torch-light event on a one-mile loop near the shelter for hikers, snowshoers and cross-country skiers.
The epicenter of fun is at the park’s Shelter 4 and Beach 2, 2660 Williamsfield Road.
Most fun of all will be the free kids snowmobile rides from 1 to 3 p.m. on the park’s extensive trail system, which is groomed and cared for year-round by volunteers from the Trail Blazers.
Snowmobiling, said club President Denny Diodati, offers a chance “to get out into the winter woods and see the beauty that surrounds us.”
The temptation to stay indoors when the temperatures turn frigid can be strong, but doing so comes at a cost.
“You have to make the best of these cold winter days, too,” said Diodati, who has been a member of the Trail Blazers for more than 20 years.
The Winter Fun Day takes place regardless of conditions, but if the current forecast remains accurate, expected temperatures in the high 20s and low 30s will likely feel balmy after temperatures fall below zero for several consecutive days this week. The sweet spot of snowy weather but not so frigid temperatures can be hard to hit, but organizers were optimistic that warming on the weekend would draw crowds while still leaving suitable conditions.
“We need the snow to go,” Diodati said, giving voice to the concern of snowmobilers everywhere.
And go they do: The Trail Blazers manage about 60 miles of trails in the park and on private lands, according to Matt Weaver, the club’s secretary. They may need the snow to go, but making sure the trails are ready when the snow falls is a year-round job.
“It can be hard work,” Weaver said of the efforts to improve and maintain trails. Grants have helped with those efforts and, in the past few months, enabled the club to purchase a new groomer for the snowy trails.
Due in part to the work by the Trail Blazers and similar clubs in the region, a network of trails stretches from Pymatuning State Park into Ohio and Erie County and eventually into southern New York.
“We did a ride this past weekend where we rode to Conneautville,” Weaver said. “It was probably 50 to 60 miles round trip on trails the whole way.”
At some points, snowmobile trails make use of secondary roads that have been designated for joint use, Diodati explained. The network of trails depends not only on volunteers from clubs, he said, but also on cooperation from private landowners who allow snowmobilers to use trails on their property and local governments that allow their roads to be used.
When something like what happened at Peek’n Peak Resort in Clymer, New York occurs, Diodati said, “That gives all of us a bad name.”
Two Erie men were charged with criminal mischief and trespassing after allegedly riding their snowmobiles on the resort’s golf course a week ago, causing hundreds of dollars of damage, according to reporting by WIVB.com.
“We’re not a bunch of outlaws,” Diodati added. “That was totally wrong. I’m glad they got caught.”
The top Winter Fun Day concern for club members is having enough snow on the ground, but those who prefer their winter fun in the more stationary setting of an ice fishing shanty need ice.
Weaver was out on the lake this weekend in preparation for the ice fishing tournament that is part of the event for the fifth consecutive year.
“I was out drilling holes today,” Weaver said on Saturday. “There was plenty of ice and it’s supposed to get really cold this week.”
Registration forms for the tournament are available this week at a number of locations around the lake. The $20 registration fee goes up to $25 if participants register at the tournament. Proceeds benefit the Trail Blazers. The angler who reels in the longest walleye will take home $350. The longest crappie will fetch $250, and the longest perch will get $150.
Between snowmobile rides onshore and fishing action on the ice, the Winter Fun Day could have something for everyone, no matter what your preference when it comes to wintry amusements.
As for Trail Blazers President Diodati, he anticipates doing a lot more riding than fishing.
“I don’t have the patience for ice fishing,” he said. “I can sit in the woods all day waiting for a deer to walk past, but ice fishing is not my cup of tea.”
Mike Crowley can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.