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Osceola in snow-business boom

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OSCEOLA — A handful of snowmobile riders stopped at the Highmarket Inn Tuesday afternoon. They lined the bar stools at the counter, ordering hot food and, in distinctive New Jersey accents, discussed which trails to hit next. The men are quite familiar with the Tug Hill, having visited throughout the past 20 years. They said they always vacation here during the summer. In the winter, however, only when there’s snow.

There’s been plenty of that this year to draw them in, but for Highmarket Inn owners Michael C. and Roxanne Hulsizer, this is just a typical winter.

Along with the restaurant and bar, at 4441 County Road 48,they operate a repair and parts shop and sell gasoline.

Mr. Hulsizer said he was surprised last week to receive calls from reporters in Syracuse, asking about what they called, “epic snowfall.”

“We’ve had just shy of 200 inches,” he said. “If we get 300 inches, then it’ll be epic.”

“But we do still have February and March to go through,” Mrs. Hulsizer said.

“Snow is our business,” Mr. Hulsizer said, “but shoveling is getting really old.”

Though this year’s snowfall wasn’t out of the ordinary for them, they did say the way it fell, quickly and relentlessly in mid-December, made for some spectacular scenes.

“We have a picture taken from the back porch and snow is almost to the top of the door,” he said. Just a few inches remain free from snow at the top of the 7-foot-tall door.

The snowbanks reached 6 feet high along his parking area.

Just as quickly, however, rains came and reduced the piles.

Mr. Hulsizer said some people wouldn’t believe the snow totals if he didn’t have the photos to prove it.

“It sinks and sinks. You wouldn’t know how much we’ve actually had,” he said, “but it’s made a nice packed base.”

Meanwhile, at Osceola Outpost, 2107 N. Osceola Road, some other men were having lunch, but there wasn’t a break from snowmobiling; instead, they were wrapping up eight hours of plowing, with miles more to go.

Osceola Highway Superintendent Richard N. Meagher leads his crew of two other men, William E. Currier and Kevin L. Searles, to maintain more than 36 miles of town and county roads in their district.

They anticipated another eight to 12 inches of snow to fall overnight.

“A foot? That’s just a dusting,” Mr. Currier said.

The men have averaged 60 hours per week on the roads, with just four or five days off since Jan. 1.

Their days begin typically at 4 a.m.

“We have to get the roads clean for the buses and for people to get to work,” Mr. Searles said.

If school closures are any indication, they are doing well. The region has had only three school closures and one was a result of extreme cold, not road conditions.

“We plug away until we’re done,” Mr. Currier said — a task he said can seem endless during some storms.

“Last Monday, we plowed for 17 and a half hours straight,” he said. “After we went home, it was still storming, so we came right back at it.”

If a lack of sleep is getting to the men, they weren’t complaining. Exhaustion, though, would be just one issue to contend with.

They operate with no wingman. The men are the sole occupants of their trucks. Though they couldn’t say for sure, they said they believe they are the only township in the county that operates with no wingmen.

“We do everything. We’re saving the taxpayers money,” Mr. Currier said.

That task is further complicated by the terrain.

“It’s tough because every place is a hill and it’s winding in every direction,” Mr. Searles said. “But we just take it down to five or six miles per hour.”

Roads are not quite as hilly or curvy in neighboring Camden, where the men recalled a recent storm dropped 2 inches, while they got 4 feet.

“That’s the difference of Tug Hill,” Mr. Searles said.

Mr. Meagher reported his department has fielded no real complaints from residents.

Lewis County Undersheriff James M. Monnat reported the department has heard of no accidents in the area, either. Mr. Currier said accidents are rare because the residents know how to drive in winter weather.

“Everybody knows what it’s like. They get good snow tires and they slow down,” he said.

Another concern for the men are snowmobilers.

“You have to watch for them,” Mr. Searles said, though he said this season hasn’t been too bad.

Plowing at night proves more challenging when deep snowfall leaves little guidance from the older banks.

“We know how to deal with it,” Mr. Currier said. “You get at it and you get it off the road.”

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