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Snowmobilers in the area hoping for snow so they can get out and ride

The sound of snowmobiles will soon fill the air as the long awaited snow has finally arrived.

Northeast snowmobile trail

Posted on 2/15/15

By Melissa Anderson

The recent snowfall may be an unwelcome sight to some, but for those who have snowmobiles it’s the most beautiful thing they have seen in awhile.

“Naturally, the more snow the better” Reily Bata, member of the Mount Carmel Moonlighters snowmobile club and also the representative for the northeast region at Snowmobile North Dakota.

Bob Wilhelmi, President of the Nekoma Trailblazers snowmobile club is a little less optimistic about the recent snow fall.

“Snow is good. There should be more, but it’s close where there should be snowmobiles out” Wilhelmi said.

The Mount Carmel Moonlighters was started in 1974, two of 39 snowmobile clubs in the state of North Dakota. The club has a current membership of 25 for the 2014-2015 season.

The Nekoma Trailblazers was started in the spring of 1970 and is one of the oldest snowmobiling clubs in North Dakota. The Trailblazers are currently 11 members strong but at one point actually had to limit the number of members because of how popular snowmobiling was in the area.

The clubs are part of the Northeast region in the state which has 423 miles of trails along with two groomers owned by the North Dakota Parks and Recreation and managed by Snowmobile North Dakota. The members of the Moonlighters and Trailblazers are responsible for putting up the snowmobile trail signs in the fall and taking the signs down in the spring. Many club members donate their time to operate the groomers.

The Northeast Trail System, also known as the Pembina Gorge Trail, covers the Cavalier, Pembina and Walsh counties.  This snowmobile trail system ties into the Canadian trail at three major points and also connects into two major Minnesota trails.

ND offers over 2,800 miles of state snowmobile trail, with the Northeast Trail having the longest system at 423 miles of groomed trail. The estimated cost of one grooming of a snowmobile trail at this length is approximately $3,600 according to Snowmobile ND statistics.  This cost of grooming couldn’t be overcome if it wasn’t for the hundreds of hours donated by all the volunteers and snowmobile clubs in the state.

On average it costs over $114,000 to maintain just one of the 14 trail systems in the state. The state snowmobile trail program has leveraged the cost of grooming and other trail upkeep expenses with grant funding, making it possible to maintain the over 2,800 miles of trail, even if there is no snow to groom.

The trail program also receives funding from snowmobilers licensing their snowmobiles. The grooming, trail signs and event planning are done solely by volunteers, usually the local snowmobile club members.

“If you feel like you want to make your local trail system better you can start by joining a club and getting involved” Bata stated.

“If you are out there using trails, you should be a member of a club” Wilhelmi said in regards to snowmobilers using trails.

The snowmobile trails are groomed about once a week if conditions allow, making the trails groomed on average about six to seven times per season. The groomer is a power unit on four tracks that pulls a skid which levels and compacts the trail. Grooming the trail smooths out the snow making it free of “moguls”, which are mounds and dips in the snow very similar to that of “washboards” on gravel roads, creating an even surface for a safer ride.

“We need to have a four inch compacted snow base to groom” Bata explained.

The four inch compacted snow base is a requirement before the trails can be groomed. There is a stipulation in land leases that the trails run on that there be the four inch base to protect the ground that the trails run over from damages that the snowmobile track may cause.

Meetings for the Moonlighters are once a month seasonally from October to April. The Trailblazers meet on an as needed basis. Trail signing, grooming updates, any issues and snowmobile ride events are the major subjects at the meetings. Trying to gain new members to help volunteer effort is very important to both clubs as membership is in decline.

“We are always looking for new members, even if a business would like to become an associate member we are very grateful” Bata stated.

With any recreational activity the issue of safety is always a concern. Snowmobilers ages 12 and older must possess a Snowmobile Safety Certification or a driver’s license to legally operate on public land, including ditches and state snowmobile trails. It should be noted that Snowmobile ND encourages all snowmobilers to take the Snowmobile Safety Certification even if they do have a driver’s license.

“I would say we definitely have less snow than average so far but have seen other years like this as well. Last year we started grooming trails January 7 and groomed well into March” Bata stated.

Bata explained how large amounts of snow for snowmobiling have substantial positive effects to the local economy.

“Many years our area of the state has the most snow which draws people in from around the state. This helps the local hotels, bars, restaurants, and gas stations” Bata said.

These are statistics gathered on behalf of Snowmobile North Dakota:

• The average snowmobiler spends $4,000 each year on snowmobile related recreation

• ND snowmobilers spend seven nights/year in a lodge or hotel to enjoy the recreation

• ND snowmobilers spend over $800 annually on parts, gear, and apparel

• ND snowmobilers travel costs exceed over $1,200 annually

• The economic impact of snowmobiling in the United States is $26 billion

While those who don’t like the amount of snow the area has received grumble about the recent snowfall, snowmobilers will keep hoping for more snow so that the upcoming snowmobile events will have a great turnout.

The Mount Carmel Moonlighters, as well as the Nekoma Trailblazers are hoping to hold a vintage snowmobile show and ride in early March if the snow forecast allows.

The annual Snowfest Ride, which is a state event with riders coming from all over, will be held in Edinburg on February 21. There are tickets available for cash prizes. If you have questions about this ride contact Corey Balsdon at 701-256-0220.