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Proposal made to improve overland trails

Chautauqua County has two major hiking trails, the East and West Overland trails. Combined, they extend to more than 40 miles throughout the county. However the trails need some improvements.

Over the summer, Jacob Bodway, who is the president of the Western New York Mountain Biking Association moved to Chautauqua County. He’s been virtually joining the county’s Parks Commission meetings talking about his vision to improve the trails and make them accessible throughout the entire year.

“”We want to reduce the maintenance, making the trails more sustainable and more accessible for all four seasons,” he told members of the parks commission. But in order for that to happen, the trails need money.

Chautauqua County Department of Public Facilities Director Brad Bentley oversees the county’s parks and trails. He admits that unfortunately, as budget cuts continue, there’s little money left for parks and recreation. “As we all know there’s limited resources in the county and with COVID it’s gotten only worse,” he said.

But during the pandemic, Bodway noted that trail use has increased. “The trails are being used now more than ever because of COVID. So we’re seeing an increase in the trails and a decrease in the funding, so we’ve got to look elsewhere,” he said.

He proposed seeking grant funds through a couple of Chautauqua County organizations as well as the Greater Buffalo Community Foundation for a $50,000 annual grant, that would last as long as a project is needed. “If it’s five years, it would be $250,000,” he said.

Parks Commission members were encouraged by Bodway’s energy and said he has their support. Bodway is continuing to work with Bentley as well as other members of the county’s Parks Department.

If they are able to land the grant, Bodway said one of the goals would be rerouting parts of the trails. Some parts are very “up and down” which makes it difficult, if not impossible for cross country skiers. Other parts of the trails go over bridges that need to be maintained, which can be expensive.

Keith Carrow, with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, said the if possible they would like to reduce some of the bridges on state lands, possibly with culverts or by just rerouting to other areas. “We would just try to plan it out with the grant money,” he said.

Bodway, who said he is on the trails on a weekly basis, said there are certain areas, too, that get swampy from heavy rains. “We want to reroute those areas where there’s erosion,” he said.

The Greater Buffalo Community Foundation Grant application is due in October. It awards funds from the Ralph C. Wilson Jr. Legacy Funds.

According to the county’s website, the Fred J. Cusimano Westside Overland Trail is the western section of county trail system. It covers over 24 miles between Mayville and Sherman. It’s considered great for hiking, mountain biking or cross-country skiing, as well as camping with lean-tos available. The trail passes over New York state reforestation areas, Chautauqua County land and private properties.

The Earl Cardot Eastside Overland Trail is the eastern section of the county trail system, covering 19 miles from Gerry, north to the town of Arkwright. Hiking, biking or cross-country skiing, camping lean-tos are available. This trail passes over state reforestation areas, and the Canadaway Creek Wildlife Management Area, Chautauqua County lands and private property.

The county’s website notes that “without the cooperation of landowners, this trail would not be possible.”

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