Hidden behind Boxcar Barney’s ice cream shop in Mayville, beyond the edge of the gravel driveway and over an old, uneven railroad bridge, a walking and biking trail stretches into the trees.
The dirt is a luscious brown color from Monday’s rain, and the grass that runs alongside the path and the trees that form living walls on either side are bright green. The whole scene is sun-dappled.
This little natural alley is part of the Chautauqua Rails to Trails system, which was transformed from abandoned railroad beds into multi-use trails by the Chautauqua Rails to Trails organization. The path continues south to Sherman and north to Brocton, comprising 30 miles total.
Chautauqua Rails to Trails will host its second annual Wine Walk fundraiser from 4 to 7 p.m. Friday, July 26 at the trailhead near Boxcar Barney’s. Waves of walkers will depart every 30 minutes.
Bree Agett, event organizer and vice president of the organization, said she overheard some people at last year’s event saying that they did not know about the trail, despite the fact that they lived in the Mayville area.
“Beyond fundraising, (we’re trying to build) awareness of the trails,” she said. “Hearing that people had never been on the trail before, that this was their first time, was really rewarding. It makes me feel like all of the work we do as a board matters.”
The walk will begin and end at the Nadine and Paul Webb Trail trailhead. Participants will walk down the trail to where it intersects with Morris Road and back.
Some tickets will be available at the door in the 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., and 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. time slots. Tickets are $30 at the door and $15 for designated drivers. Updates on ticket availability can be found on the group’s Facebook page.
The 2-mile walk features six wine stops. At each, there will be a sweet option, a dry option and a snack — including granola truffles from Jamestown-based Reach Organics and mini cupcakes from Westfield-based Cakes by Brandy.
Each stop along the route will feature selections from a different winery. Five of the wineries are local: Johnson Estate Winery, Woodbury Winery & Vineyards, Merritt Estate Winery, Five & 20 Spirits & Brewing and Liberty Vineyards & Winery. The sixth stop will have Barefoot champagne purchased from JB Liquor Shoppe in Jamestown.
All vendors either donated the wine or provided the event organizers with a discount.
“We’re very fortunate that they’ve supported us in this,” Agett said. “It’s going to really help us take the event further and make it fun and affordable for people, while helping us to maintain the trail.”
Agett said the proceeds from the fundraiser will be used for trail maintenance. The biggest enemies of the trail, she said, are beavers, whose dams can cause the trail to flood, and ATVs, which tear up the trail, and water, which can erode the trail or make it muddy.
“Our biggest cost is keeping water off of the trail,” she said.
Some culverts — big pipes that channel water under the trails to prevent it from running over them — need to be replaced, a project that will be extremely costly.
“We have bigger dreams as well that we’re not quite to the point of realizing,” Agett said. “We’d really like to try out a new surface on one of the sections of the trail, like a crushed limestone surface, that would decrease maintenance needs.”
The effort to create a Rails to Trails system in Chautauqua County began in 1991, as a movement started to sweep the country — turning abandoned railroads into productive public spaces.
As automobile and air travel became more common, and train travel fell to the wayside, an estimated 38,000 miles of rail lines were abandoned, according to the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy website. By 1990, 103,000 miles were abandoned.
“It was a national movement, so we jumped on it because of all of the abandoned railroad tracks in our county,” said Wendy Lewellen, secretary of Chautauqua Rails to Trails. “We had a lot of them due to the discovery of oil in Titusville, Pennsylvania.”
Lewellen said a number of local influential people — including John Goodell and Robert Berke, a local doctor who later became president of the group — came together to create the trail system.
The founders of the organization had to embark on a complicated process of acquiring the railroad property where they could, and securing easements wherever the trail went through private property.
“It’s a hodgepodge,” Lewellen said. “Some places we own, some places we just have a gentlemen’s agreement, and everything in between.”
Once the logistics were set, the crew had to clean up the abandoned railroad sites, which in some parts had become a dumping ground for old refrigerators and other trash.
“It had become a no-man’s land,” Lewellen said.
In 1996, the first trail in the system opened: the Ralph C. Sheldon Jr. Trail, which runs about 7 miles from Titus Road in Sherman, to Summerdale Road in the Town of Chautauqua.
Six other sections were opened sporadically from 1998 to 2002, Lewellen said. In 2006, the Portage Trail, which extends about 3.5 miles from Route 430 along the old Jamestown, Westfield and Northwest railroad tracks.
Now, the trail system extends about 30 miles from Sherman to Brocton.
Hikers, runners, cyclists, horseback riders, snowshoers, cross country skiers and snowmobilers enjoy the trails year-round.
Lewellen said Chautauqua Rails to Trails collaborates with the Chautauqua Lake Snowmobile Club to help maintain the trail, which is a popular destination for snowmobilers in the winter.
Chautauqua Rails to Trails’ president, Jim Fincher, was originally hired as a trail manager in 2000.
“Ever since then, he has been the definition of Chautauqua Rails to Trails,” Lewellen said. “They’re synonymous.”
Now, the group is working on a new trail which will connect downtown Frewsburg at Main Street, to Riverside Road near the Audubon Community Nature Center in Jamestown.
Lewellen said the trails are a great place for anyone looking to get some exercise or enjoy nature.
“It improves the quality of life for visitors and people who live here because they can access nature; and it’s a place to get your exercise,” she said. “Most of our country is not great about having sidewalks and bike paths.”