Calling all snowmobilers in Fillmore and Houston counties! Join your local snowmobile club!
Your help is needed to maintain the snowmobile trails in your county. If younger snowmobilers do not step up and help, the well-maintained trails in southeast Minnesota may not be available to ride within the next five to ten years.
Mabel-Canton Trailbusters President Devry Kerns explained, “We get many compliments on our well-groomed trails in SE Minnesota. We have beautiful areas to snowmobile thanks to our landowners who let us use their property. However, we are at a point where if we don’t get more members, we might not be able to keep our trails open much longer.”
The two counties are home to seven snowmobile clubs that maintain over 500 miles of the 21,000 total miles of trails in Minnesota. The trails are all maintained by volunteers.
•Bluff Valley Riders maintain the trails in the Harmony, Preston, and Lanesboro area.
•Caledonia Sno-Gophers maintains over 179 miles of groomed trails in Houston County.
•Houston Money Creek Sno Riders maintains 85 miles of trails,
•La Crescent Snowmobile Club maintains over 80 miles of trails.
•Mabel-Canton Trailbusters maintains 55 miles of trails in the heart of the scenic bluff country.
•Tri-County Trailblazers maintains over 70 miles of trails including Fountain, Wykoff, Forestville State Park, Spring Valley, Ostrander, and to the Iowa Border.
•Viking Ridge Riders maintain 68 miles of trails in the Spring Grove area.
Local snowmobile clubs are responsible for maintaining and preserving the trails. The clubs also build positive relationships with landowners who permit snowmobilers to cross their land every winter. Club presidents expressed that they have great cooperation from landowners plus it was noted that if the landowners sign the permit they are covered by the club’s insurance.
Kerns explains that maintaining a trail includes, “Before the snow even gets here, we have to make sure the trail is safe for riders. Then, we go out and clear brush and trees, mow, build and fix bridges and look for washouts. Sometimes we need to talk to landowners and change the trail if needed. Once crops are out, we can start to put up trail signs. Once we get a good base, the groomer can go out for the first time. We usually go out and pack with the roller, then with each additional snow, we can take out the groomer. To groom our trails, it takes about 24 hours each time.” The more members the club has the work can be spread out, so it is not a huge time commitment for each member.
Clubs are facing the same problem – recruiting new members.
The members in the eight SE Minnesota clubs are aging out. Viking Ridge Riders President Dan Engrave shared that he is one of the youngest active members in their club noting he is in his 40’s. The club’s senior members are maintaining the trails and Engrave believes, “It is time for our older members to sit back.”
Houston Money Creek Sno Riders Senior Member Ron Lewison expanded on the reasons why clubs are having trouble recruiting younger members, the younger generation have a lot of irons in the fire, there has been a decline in the amount of snow that has fallen over the past four or five years, it is expensive to get into the sport as the price of sleds runs between $13,000 to $14,000 plus there is no entry-level machine, and the regulations.
Kerns stated, “The commitment for members is very little. We hold monthly meetings from October-April in Mabel. In November we put up the trail signs and, in the Spring, we take them out. Then, we split it into sections so you can do your own section as time allows. Right now, we have around 13 active members but the more members we have the less each person has to do.”
Membership fees are reasonable and run from between $5 to $20 for an individual membership and $25 for a family membership. If you are not a snowmobiler or used to be one in the past and want to support this economic and fun family activity, you are also welcomed to join the clubs.
For $25, local club members can join the Minnesota United Snowmobilers Association (MN USA). Many of the clubs include this fee in their membership fee. Kerns explained, “This money goes to support the trails and best of all gives you some insurance while riding the trails. The more members we have, the more money comes back to the club. The more money that the club has, the better our trails can be maintained.”
Tri-County Trailblazers offers the snowmobiling safety certification class every year in December, and La Crescent offers a course in January. Anyone born after 1976 must pass the snowmobiling safety certification class in order to operate a snowmobile.
Tri-County Trailblazers also organizes an annual event, Snowtacular Celebration, to introduce attendees to snowmobiling and recruit new members. This winter’s event will be held on Saturday, February 18, at the Five Wynds Event Centre in Spring Valley. Activities include timed snowcross, snowmobile barrel races, vintage snowmobile show and ride plus Troubleshooters will be playing at 7 p.m. This is the fifth year the club has held the event.
In addition to membership dues, the clubs receive funds three to four times a year from the Minnesota Snowmobile Trails Assistance programs. The money comes from snowmobile registrations and 1% of the unrefunded gas tax and is used to purchase equipment to groom the trails.
Some clubs do fundraisers to help support the clubs’ activities. Fundraisers have included the sale of apparel, raffles, and winter events. Organizing a fundraiser with a limited number of people to do the work is challenging.
Why we all should care? The International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association (ISMA) published the following stats:
•The average snowmobiler spends $2,500 each year on snowmobile-related recreation.
•50% of snowmobilers trailer their snowmobiles to ride. 50% snowmobile from their primary residence or have a vacation home where they keep and use their snowmobiles.
•Snowmobilers are caring neighbors, they raised over $3 million for charity annually.
•There are 3000+ snowmobile clubs worldwide, involved in trail grooming, charity fund raising, & family activities.
•Snowmobiling is great exercise bringing people outdoors interacting with nature and each other. It is an invigorating sport, great for stress release and good mental health.
•Snowmobiling is a great family lifestyle. It is an activity that keeps parents and kids together. Historically individuals who snowmobile at a young age continue to snowmobile with their parents throughout their lives, sharing great experiences as a family.
To find out more about your local snowmobile club and to join, visit their Facebook page and send them a message. All the clubs have an active Facebook page.