It was hard to tell who was more excited about the long-idled toboggan chutes reopening at Chestnut Ridge Park on Saturday -- the kids or their parents.
The grown-ups waxed nostalgic as they remembered their own childhoods at Chestnut Ridge -- piling onto toboggans with friends, hanging onto the person in front of them and squealing as they zoomed down the run.
"It's good to have it operational again. It's been a long time," said Jeff Bartels, a Buffalo streets worker. "I think it's awesome they put the money back into it and opened it up. Look how many people are here."
Chestnut Ridge was packed on a cold, clear Saturday as people came from all over Western New York to enjoy the reopening of the four reconstructed toboggan chutes and introduce a favorite winter pastime to a whole new generation.
"When you go to the bottom you see a jump, and it's really bumpy," said 8-year-old Joe Wasielewski of Angola. "It's cool."
The toboggan chutes -- long a staple at Chestnut Ridge -- were built in the 1930s, about the time the Works Progress Administration erected stone walls, pavilions and other amenities in the park.
A lack of regular maintenance over the years, exacerbated by budget constraints, led the county to close the runs five years ago, and for several years before that, the chutes had been only partially operational.
But the county spent a little less than $200,000 to refurbish the four runs, most notably the dark green wind huts at the top of the chutes.
"Tax dollars well spent," said Jason Orlando, of the Town of Tonawanda, as he prepared to go down the chute. "It's about time we got our dollars put toward something good."
County officials say toboggan runs, like the ones at Chestnut Ridge, are a rarity throughout the nation.
"Opening these toboggan runs is a quality-of-life issue for Western New Yorkers," said County Executive Chris Collins. "Generations of families have enjoyed these chutes for nearly 80 years. We're happy to make them available to a new generation for recreation and exercise."
As news spread that the toboggan chutes would reopen this weekend, Western New Yorkers rifled through junk stuffed in their attics and garages, hoping they hadn't tossed that old family toboggan to the curb.
"We dug ours out and cleaned it up," said June Burns of Fredonia. "Look at all the beeswax on it."
Tobogganers climbed the metal stairs Saturday to the top of the chutes and stepped inside the wind huts. Assisted by county workers, they placed their toboggans on a bed of rollers and squeezed onto the long, wooden sleds in threes and fours or more.
With a hearty push, and the release of a metal flap keeping the toboggan in place, they slid down the hill between tracks.
It's a nice alternative to the Chestnut Ridge sledding hill, tobogganers said.
"It's better," said 13-year-old Justin Jaracz of Orchard Park. "Faster."
Of course, the ride down may be memorable, but dragging the toboggan back up the hill is not as amusing.
"I don't like that part," said Riley Bartels, 11.
The tobogganing chutes will be open on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and on Fridays from 4 to 8 p.m.
There also are plans to open the toboggan runs, by reservation, on Wednesdays for school field trips or corporate outings.
Anyone using the chutes will need to bring their own toboggan and only wooden toboggans are allowed.
The county is looking into buying toboggans to rent.
To reserve the toboggan runs, call 858-7037. For more information, check out www.erie.gov/parks.e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org