Saturday September 8, 2018

'Gateway to the Tug Hill'

Pulaski snowmobile club mobilizes to enhance village’s tourism appeal
By Lou Sorendo

    Paul Holliday looks over the trail system.

    It’s a slice of serenity for winter recreationists. The Tug Hill Plateau, located roughly 60 miles east of Pulaski, is not only known for its epic snowfall, but also for its appeal to those who are passionate about snowmobiling and all-terrain vehicle action.


    The Tug Hill region covers portions of Jefferson, Lewis, Oneida and Onondaga counties. It averages more than 200 inches of snow per winter.


    Paul Holliday is the business agent for the Pulaski-Boylston Snowmobile Club, and is intent on making the village “the Gateway to the Tug Hill.”


    In fact, that is the new slogan for an organization that is revitalizing both its leadership and brand.


    The club has approximately 700 members.


    In Oswego County, there are more than 360 miles of trails that provide access to the Tug Hill and Adirondack Park regions.


    Holliday, owner of Agency Specialists of Mexico in Pulaski, said his nonprofit club cares for more than 100 miles of trails in Oswego County.


    “What we do is provide an economic conduit for snowmobilers to come into the other regions,” Holliday said.


    While there may frequently be scant snow in the Pulaski area, one only has to travel to Tug Hill to realize several feet of snow.


    “There was snowmobiling going on well into mid-April this year,” he noted.


    Many snowmobilers go through Pulaski on I-81 on their journey to the Tug Hill.


    “What we are trying to do is capture some of that economic business here into Pulaski,” he said.


    He uses Old Forge as a model for an area that features a flourishing snowmobile industry.


    The club also intends to work with village leaders to advocate for the use of the “Gateway to the Tug Hill” slogan.


    Eventually, Holliday said the club wants to pitch the same concept to Oswego County tourism promoters.


    “At the end of the day, in the town of Richland, really what we have are fishing, snowmobiling, summer campers, four-wheelers and all-terrain vehicles,” Holliday said.


    “Honestly, the next Silicon Valley is not coming to the town of Richland,” he said.


    “We need to focus on what we have here. We have similar items here as Old Forge, such as bed and breakfast establishments, restaurants and a trail corridor system,” he added.


    The club features many volunteers who engage in what can be “a never-ending process,” Holliday said.


    “Our biggest volunteers hands-down are our landowners and the help they are able to provide,” he said. “They volunteer their land for us to put trails on, and they get little to no benefit in return. They do it simply out of the goodness of their hearts.” he said.


    Ninety percent of the trail system is on private property.


    The trail system in Pulaski allows snowmobilers to travel anywhere across the state’s 10,000 miles of trails. The state’s Parks and Recreation Department funds clubs based on work they do on trails and miles covered. 


    The New York State Snowmobile Association has a master insurance policy to protect landowners up to $1 million, while a general obligation law also protects property owners.


    The club also works with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation and state Parks and Recreation to obtain permits for trail locations on state property and within wildlife management units.


    Servicing trails on state land also creates access for physically challenged hunters and recreationists, Holliday added.


    Action-packed agenda: A major project on the club agenda is to create a parking area north of its clubhouse on Jefferson Street.


    Holliday is working with International Union of Operating Engineers and John Leeman, who is in charge of its apprenticeship-training program.


    Massive amounts of dirt from the recent construction of Dunkin’ Donuts were donated, and now grading needs to be accomplished.


    Holliday is hopeful that union members will provide grading services. “It will provide a good place for apprentices to come in and practice with machinery,” he said.


    Officials in the towns of Boylston and Redfield do not want snowmobilers parked on side roads because it creates a burden for snowplows in the winter.


    Holliday said creating a spacious parking lot would eradicate that issue while enabling snowmobilers to unload and be able to travel from the Pulaski site.


    The business agent’s main focus is on fundraising and grant writing, as well administrative duties that include marketing and social media.


    Brian Wallace, president; Dave Reeves, vice president; Margaret Cummins, secretary, and George Cummings, treasurer, make up the new leadership team.


    Holliday has been an avid snowmobiler since he was 3 years old.


    “I am basically a community volunteer,” said Holliday, noting he has coached Little League baseball for nearly 10 years.


    “It’s my nature,” he said.


    Holliday was a diesel mechanic during a six-year stint with the U.S. Army.


    “I have a lot of background on the maintenance side, and I’ve been in the insurance business for 20 years now. I have a lot of background in contractual language and the business end of it,” he said.


    Economic impact: While no quantitative numbers are available, Holliday said the economic impact of snowmobiling in Oswego County is significant.


    “When you have a weekend when there is vicious snow, this town is flooded with snowmobilers, who use gas stations, businesses and restaurants,” he said.


    There used to be a trail system connected to the village, but that was discontinued years ago. Now, the club is in the process of opening that trail back up and welcoming snowmobilers into the village.


    Holliday said he wants to see traffic enhanced even more, and the key is making people aware “of the fact that once you are in Pulaski, you don’t have to go anywhere else.”


    He noted the majority of people who come to northern Oswego County for snowmobiling are from out of the region and even state.


    New York state has made it mandatory for out-of-state snowmobilers to be registered in New York state.


    Those funds are then disbursed among the various snowmobile clubs. In addition, out-of-staters and local folks as well can earn a discount on their registration if they belong to a club.


    “For instance, if you do not belong to a club, the standard snowmobile registration is $100 a year,” he said. “If you belong to a club, that drops it down to $45.”


    A typical club membership is around $25 a year.


    Registrants can select which club they want their money directed to as well as which club they want to be a member of.


    There are 10 snowmobile clubs in Oswego County, some of which cover multiple counties. That includes the Oswego County Snowmobile Association. The association’s website provides trail maps; clubs, food and beverage sites; where to access gas, parts and supplies; accommodations; and trail heads and parking information.


    There are more than 200 snowmobile clubs in the state.


    Grooming a future: Holliday said the most significant challenge facing the club is having the correct equipment to groom trails.


    The club has three groomers and is looking to add a fourth pending approval of a grant through New York State Parks and Recreation.


    Each groomer has four tracks, with each costing about $20,000. A new groomer costs upward to $200,000.


    Along with that equipment comes related payments and a rigorous maintenance schedule.


    The club must deal with frequent breakdowns of equipment as well, Holliday said.


    “This year, we should have a brand new groomer in place,” he said. “When you have more groomers, that means better grooming and better trails. When you have better trails, all of that branding and word of mouth takes care of itself.”


    The club is also in the process of rebuilding several bridges and widening trails.


    “We want to make things more flow-able for snowmobile traffic to come in and out of Pulaski,” he said.


    Snowmobile registrations in New York state were up approximately 5,000 last season, while global sales of snowmobiles are also up, Holliday noted.


    “People should be joining a club as soon as possible instead of waiting until the fall or winter like they normally do,” Holliday said. This way, clubs procure funds sooner to help them with vital maintenance and groomer expenses.


    Holliday said snowmobiling becomes a family event — much like summertime camping — and snowmobilers frequently visit different hotels and motels. They can also do day trips.


    “It’s not uncommon for some snowmobilers to ride up to 200 miles a day,” he said.


    “As soon as you bring a recreationist into one location, it automatically affects everywhere around there, because they do not just stay in one location,” Holliday said.


    “If we bring someone into Pulaski, it’s going to indirectly affect businesses in Lewis County. So the idea is to get snowmobilers to the Tug Hill Plateau region, and then from there, it becomes a shotgun blast effect on the economy,” he noted.


    The club is also upgrading its social media presence on Facebook and its website —


    Snowmobilers can be informed of trail conditions via the Internet.