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Mountain Home Magazine

Leave the Driving to Lakeside Trolley

May 01, 2024 09:00AM ● By Ann E. Duckett

Wine, craft beer, hard ciders, distillery delectables—the Finger Lakes has become a mecca for wine novices and enthusiasts, beer geeks, and libationists. How to enjoy it all safely?

Lakeside Trolley is a brilliant solution to safely moving people around Seneca Lake’s seventy-five miles of shoreline, reducing traffic, and minimizing parking bottlenecks. Its unique hop-on-hop-off design delivers riders to predetermined destinations to sample wine, beer, or spirits, grab a bite to eat, and shop. Day-trippers are free from planning a route, finding a designated driver willing to live vicariously through the designated imbibers, navigating roads, and searching for parking spots.

Launched last March, this day-long, drive-free adventure is the concept of Katrina Gonsorick and partner Joe Irwin, owners and hosts. The couple grew up outside Philly, have known each other since kindergarten, and reconnected six years ago. As serial entrepreneurs, they have a number of successful hospitality endeavors in their rear view mirror, including restaurants and a glamping business. Joe, who had been working in the computer trade, says he “wanted to work in an industry where you could be with people who didn’t need me, but wanted me.” Their latest dream of operating a trolley crystalized when they learned what the community had to offer.

“Our initial trip here was to pursue our goal of starting the service,” says Katrina. “The quaint, small town vibe in Watkins Glen, the Seneca Lake Wine Trail, and the annual tourism numbers made it a great fit for our concept. The pleasant bonus was how welcoming the organizations and businesses were. It’s an exceptional community—we encourage one another, refer each other’s businesses, and work together to create a memorable experience for visitors.”

They knew there was no Uber, taxi, or limo service in the area that would get visitors from one winery to the next, so they thought the trolley was the perfect next business. It took a year and a half to get the okay from New York’s Department of Transportation.

Rides begin with a morning check-in and welcome from Katrina and Joe. There’s a full day ahead, with stops at five wineries and a brewery, which will take travelers through to 5:30 p.m. When the rubber meets the road, riders can sit back, relax, and leave the driving to Skip Opdyke, who shares points of interest and historical highlights along the way.

The trolley, which is twenty-three years old and came from Pittsburgh, can comfortably seat thirty during peak season.

“It’s taken time and care to bring it back to life, and making sure they are mechanically safe and sound,” Joe says.

The full-window views are panoramic, and each seat offers riders plenty to see. Stops are about an hour each, so no one feels rushed. It’s plenty of time to relax, do a tasting or flight, and talk with fellow travelers. On this trip, Laura and Eric Stiansen are celebrating their eleventh anniversary. “It’s a convenient, affordable, and responsible way to visit wineries, especially compared to paying for a private driver,” Laura says. “We’ve been to the Finger Lakes numerous times and were excited to learn about the trolley. It’s a fun new way to experience the region. We hope they expand to other lakes in the future.” That’s a possibility, as Joe and Katrina do have another trolley in the wings, and are considering FLX areas where they might expand service.

“This is great for Seneca Lake growers and producers,” says Skip as he drives past workers pruning the vines and piling up hand-trimmed spurs and canes among the rows of dormant grapevines. Each season offers a different snapshot of the industry. “Our service makes it safer for everyone.”

Teresa Knapp, partner, and sales/accounting executive with Lakewood Vineyards, appreciates how Lakeside Trolley’s service complements the existing Finger Lakes businesses.

“Katrina and Joe are very communicative; letting us know how many pre-sold tickets they have for the weekend helps with the planning process,” she says. “I think for the consumer, they have a great route to choose from, plus no worries about driving and parking if they’re staying in Watkins Glen. This is a nice option for small groups traveling together.”

As for Joe and Katrina, “I enjoy creating a unique social experience…showcasing some of the best establishments on Seneca Lake,” Katrina says. “It’s great to see couples and small groups exchanging contact information or enjoying dinner together after the tour. By giving passengers insight into where they are going, what to try, and other recommendations, it helps to make their experience more fun and hassle free. Bringing people together to have fun in our town and seeing their enjoyment makes us feel accomplished in the vision we set for Lakeside Trolley.”

The trolley runs April through November, with extended days of operation during peak season, June to August. Lakeside Trolley is located at 2 Seneca Harbor Drive, Watkins Glen, adjacent to Village Marina. Operating hours are Thursday through Monday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Ticket booth hours are Thursday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Riders can also make reservations online, and will immediately receive email and text confirmations. Tickets are forty-five dollars. Riders can download the trolley app to track its real-time location, which is useful when finishing up tastings or making purchases. Visit lakeside-trolley.com for schedules and directions, to purchase tickets, and learn about the stops along the routes. For additional information, contact Katrina or Joe at [email protected], or (607) 302-1494.

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