One of my favorite winter activities is crosscountry skiing in the Montezuma Wetlands Complex. While most visitors to Montezuma come in the spring, summer, and fall, winter has its own attractions – especially when there’s been a lot of snow. There is nothing like being outdoors in January, warm from physical activity, and quietly swishing along trails enjoying winter scenes. Three of my favorite areas to ski are described here.
The Refuge’s Wildlife Drive is closed to automobiles when there is snow but skiing is allowed. Note that the drive is open to the wind, drifts easily, and is exposed to the full glare of the sun which can cause icy patches. Pick a day when there’s fresh snow and no wind, and you’ll have miles of flat road to travel. On a cold but sunny afternoon last February, we enjoyed seeing two bald eagles, a solitary heron fishing near the carp outlet, and small flocks of waterfowl taking off and landing on the open water. To ski the Wildlife Drive, park at the Refuge Visitor Center lot off of Rte. 5&20.
If you are looking for a more protected spot, the Esker Brook Trail provides a nice loop through woods, along a stream, around a pond, and up the glacially formed ridge and back through the woods (approximately 1.5 miles). Chickadees may accompany you on part of your trip and a variety of animal tracks usually crisscross the trail. You can also connect from the ridge portion of the trail to the South Spring Pond Trail that travels east through open fields and along the pond, adding an additional mile if followed to Rte. 89 and back. The Esker Brook Trail can be reached by heading north on Rte. 89 from Rte. 5&20, turning left on Lay Road, turning right on E. Tyre Road, and watching for the parking lot and trail access on the right hand side.
My very favorite place to ski within the Complex is Howland’s Island. The island has approximately 15 miles of unplowed roads that provide a variety of terrain and scenery. You can ski for hours through woods, up and down hills, across fields and meadows, and around frozen ponds. You’ll see a variety of winter birds, squirrels, and perhaps a glimpse of white tail deer. Watch for other signs of animal activity.
There are two ways to reach Howland’s Island. Head north on Rte, 38 from Port Byron and turn left on Howland’s Island Road. Park at the end and walk across the bridge. Alternatively, take Rte. 89 to Savannah, turn right at the light for a short distance and then right onto Svannah Spring Lake Road/Messner Road. Continue approximately 2 miles, turn right on Carncass Road and follow it to the end.
A couple of cautionary notes about skiing within the Complex: the trails are not groomed. If you’re lucky, other skiers (or snowshoers) have been out before you, but be prepared to break your own trail. In addition, the trails on Howland’s Island are not marked. It helps to have a copy of the Montezuma Wetlands Complex Trails map that gives a good overview of the trails. And finally, be sure to follow winter safety precautions: ski with other people, dress appropriately (layers are good!), and bring food and water.
Cross-country skiing is a great way to combat the winter blahs. When there’s snow, grab your skis, get outside
and enjoy Montezuma’s winter beauty!