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The key word in describing the Pat McGee Trail in western New York is variety. The rail-trail rolls for more than 12 miles across the Allegheny Plateau between Cattaraugus and Salamanca, passing through differences in climate, soil, and topography that give rise to 41 species of mammals, 150 types of birds, and 174 kinds of plants and trees.
Formally dedicated in 2005 to the memory of state senator and trail supporter Patricia McGee, the trail follows an Erie Railroad branch that ran between Salamanca and Dunkirk on Lake Erie. It later became part of the Erie Lackawanna Railroad and the New York & Lake Erie Railroad before it went out of service in 1990. The trail visits seven villages and hamlets along the route and crosses six bridges. Travelers face a gentle rise midway along the trail as it crosses the Eastern Continental Divide. Numerous interpretive signs along the route explain natural and historical features along the way.
Starting just south of Cattaraugus, the trail takes a steep dip across a bridge and begins a climb toward the Continental Divide. You’ll find a lean-to here used by cross-country skiers and snowmobilers in the wintertime; it also serves as protection for sudden summer storms.
You’ll cross over the Eastern Continental Divide about 3 miles after the start and pass the 11-acre Linlyco Lake between the villages of New Albion and Little Valley. In another 2 miles, you’ll enter the county seat of Little Valley and pass the entrance to the Cattaraugus County Fairgrounds, which draws crowds to the fair in August and to stock car and demolition derbies throughout the summer. The town has a couple of diners for refreshments, or you can picnic at the community park in one of the gazebos or the picnic shelter. Paved for a short distance, the trail returns to crushed stone as you leave the village.
The final 6 miles to Salamanca runs alongside Little Valley Creek through a narrow agricultural valley. The open space across farm fields allows sweeping views of the surrounding hills. The Pat McGee Trail crosses a state hiking trail into Elkdale State Forest about 2 miles past the trailhead in Little Valley. Another 2 miles down the trail, it crosses another hiking path, the 950-mile Finger Lakes Trail. Just before that trail junction, you’ll traverse a 123-foot-long railroad trestle, which is the longest on the rail-trail.
The trail ends as it enters Salamanca, once a busy railroad hub on the north bank of the Allegheny River. The city is within the Allegheny Reservation. The Seneca–Iroquois National Museum is located about a mile south at 814 Broad St., and the Salamanca Railroad Museum is housed in a restored passenger depot about 2.5 miles away at 170 Main St.
Cattaraugus County is studying potential connections between the Pat McGee Trail and several other trails in the county, such as the Allegheny River Valley Trail between Allegany and Olean.
To reach the northern endpoint just south of Cattaraugus from I-90, take Exit 59 and turn left onto NY 60 S/Bennett Road. Go 3.3 miles, and turn left onto NY 83. Go 9.8 miles, and turn left to stay on NY 83. Go 2.3 miles, and stay straight onto NY 322 (NY 83 turns right). Go 4.7 miles, and turn right onto US 62/E. Plains Road; then go 4.8 miles, and turn left onto County Road 6/Leon New Albion Road. Go 11.6 miles, and look for a small parking lot on the left. The trail starts on the right.
To reach the southern endpoint in Salamanca from I-86, take Exit 20, and head northeast onto NY 417 E. Go 0.7 mile, and turn left onto NY 353/Center St. Go 0.9 mile, and look for parking on the right at the trailhead.
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