‘Winter Fun Challenge’

Cross-country, downhill skiing, snowshoeing, snow-tubing and even a guided tour: Nonprofit promoting winter challenge in the Tug Hill region

By Norah Machia

Volunteer instructor Frank Williams helps participants photograph a hemlock tree branch

The Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust is hosting its second annual Winter Fun Challenge to encourage people of all ages to get outside and explore the region during the cold winter months. 

Participants can try out cross-country and downhill skiing, snowshoeing, and even snow-tubing at various locations throughout Oswego, Oneida, Lewis and Jefferson counties.

Anyone who participates in a minimum of eight activities in the Tug Hill region will earn a special patch or decal, and all that’s required is sending a list of the places visited to the land trust.

“We are also interested in any photos people would like to send us as well,” says Linda Gibbs, community programs director for the nonprofit organization.

A list of places where people can enjoy winter activities in the Tug Hill region will be posted on the land trust website, along with a registration form. In addition, the Tug Hill Tomorrow Land Trust is planning several guided outings during the winter season which will also be counted toward the Winter Fun Challenge.

One outing that is new this year in the Winter Fun Challenge may be especially appealing to those who not only want to enjoy nature, but also help preserve it. For anyone interested in conservation, the land trust will offer several opportunities to help monitor an invasive species known as the hemlock woolly adelgid. This insect kills hemlock trees and has been spreading throughout the region, including into parts of the Lake Ontario shoreline in Oswego County.

The land trust is one of several groups working with the St.  Lawrence Eastern Lake Ontario Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management (SLELO PRISM), an organization dedicated to preventing, detecting, and responding to invasive species.

The hemlock woolly adelgid is actually easier to detect in the winter months, says Gibbs. “They are normally the size of a poppy seed or smaller,” she says. “That makes them very challenging to find.” But in the winter months, the insects grow furry coats, making them easier to spot on tree branches.

The land trust has scheduled several hemlock woolly adelgid Volunteer monitoring “Walks and Talks” for anyone interested in learning how to identify the pests and report their findings to monitoring officials.

Sometimes, an observation of the tree itself will indicate if the invasive species has taken up residence, says Gibbs. “By looking at the overall health of the tree, we can often tell if it’s been affected by the insect.”

The following hemlock woolly adelgid training outings have been scheduled by the land trust in partnership with SLELO PRISM:

Dec 13, 10 am – Noon, Salmon River Falls, Altmar

Feb 14, 10 am – Noon, Forest Park, Camden

Mar 13, 10 am – Noon, Great Bear Swamp Recreational Area, Fulton

Registration is required in advance for each of these hikes. For more information on these and other outings, along with the Winter Fun Challenge, visit www.tughilltomorrowlandtrust.org. Linda Gibbs may also be contacted at lgibbs@tughilltomorrowlandtrust.org or 315-779-8240.

More information on the hemlock woolly adelgid may be found on the New York State Hemlock Initiative at www.cornell.edu, the SLELO PRISM website at www.sleloinvasives.org or the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation website www.dec.ny.gov/animals.

Numerous public parks and lands throughout the Tug Hill region remain open during the winter season. A listing of public trails may be found in the official Tug Hill Recreation Guide, and those denoted with a cross-country skier icon indicate they are open during the winter months.  The guide, published by the 1000 Islands Tourism Council, may be found at www.visit1000islands.com/request-a-guide.

More information on places to explore in the Tug Hill region during the winter months may also be viewed at www.visittughill.com.