For those who have been waiting all winter to get out for some snowmobiling, now may be the time.
Trail conditions throughout the Allegheny National Forest including the 115.3-mile Allegheny Snowmobile Loop (ASL) and the 1A trail that runs from the ASL near Red Bridge to Allegany State Park in New York - were listed as "good" on Monday. A trail with a "good" rating means it is "snow covered with a minimal groomed base, fallen snow top coating, and no bare spots." That is the second-best state in the five-step rating system.
The weather forecast contains good news. Winter Storm Nika is expected to drop up to a foot of new snow on Warren County by late Wednesday and temperatures are not expected to rise above freezing for a full week.
A snowmobile is seen on the Allegheny Snowmobile Loop
At Chapman State Park, conditions were finally good for snowmobiling last weekend and Administrative Assistant Laura Whitten said snowmobilers were using the trails.
The ASL is a popular trail, ANF Executive Assistant Kathy Mohney said.
"ASL is attractive for its mileage and the fact that it is a loop," Mohney said.
The trail passes Warren, goes just south of Hearts Content National Scenic Area, into Forest County, through Marienville, just west of Kane in McKean County, and past the upper reservoir. Connectors of various length add up to about 30 miles.
"All snowmobiles using ANF trails must be registered with the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) and have proof of liability insurance," Mohney said. Some of the registration dollars collected by DCNR are distributed for trail grooming.
On about 59 miles of the ANF trails, snowmobile operators must be at least 16 years old.
Keeping trails in good shape is a year-round effort. "Our local snowmobile clubs put a lot of effort into summer maintenance to make sure the trails are ready for grooming and riding," Mohney said.
Grooming has been ongoing, with most trails getting some attention in the last week. The U.S. Forest Service, Tionesta Valley Snowmobile Club, Forest County Snowmobile Club, and Marienville Trail Riders Snowmobile Club have all be out working on those trails.
Because the majority of designated snowmobile trails are located on shared use roads, the ANF relies on help from other sources.
"During snowmobile season we work cooperatively with timber contractors and oil and gas operators to ensure that they can plow and sand the roads for the safety of their truck drivers while still leaving adequate snow cover for snowmobile users," Mohney said. "One way of addressing those issues on shared use winter recreation roads is through contract specifications that encourage operators to leave at least four inches of snow on these roads for grooming and snowmobile use."
The trails are not just convenient places to ride, they're intended to keep riders in certain areas. "Stay on the trails," Mohney said. "Riding off-trail can cause damage to the environment, particularly at stream crossings and wet areas."
With other vehicles sharing the trails and grooming often being handled at night, Mohney asks that snowmobilers keep their headlights on at all times.