By Clay Schuldt
The Caledonia Argus
Once again Southeast Minnesota was blanketed by snow and while some take this as a sign to stay indoors, others take advantage of the weather and see it as a chance to hit the snowmobile trails.
179 miles of trails
With large amounts of snowfall expected every year in Minnesota it is no wonder the state boasts 20,000 miles of snowmobile trails. Most of these trails are maintained by local clubs and volunteers. Caledonia’s club alone is responsible for the maintenance of 179 miles worth of trails. The management and grooming of this trail system is taken care of by several local clubs. The Caledonia club, known as the Sno-Gophers, has around 70 members.
Dennis Conniff explained that the 179 miles maintained by the Sno-Gophers connect with trail systems maintained by Spring Grove and La Crescent. These local snowmobile clubs are included in the state organization, Minnesota United Snowmobilers Association (MnUSA), which is also part of a nationwide organization.
Conniff is not a just a member of the Sno-Gophers, but is also a director for the state organization and explained that even other countries such as Canada, Russia and Sweden are affiliated through various clubs. As a result of the close connection between groups, many snowmobile trails link up with trail systems of the other counties and other states. A snowmobiler in Caledonia could follow a network of trails all the way into Canada, a trip which a few intrepid members of the Sno-Gophers have tried.
A year-long process
Of course, to ensure statewide travel, each local chapter of MnUSA must maintain its trails, which is often a yearlong process. Houston County receives several grants donated from local snowmobilers to ensure these trails are maintained with some of the costs being covered through snowmobile registration.
Conniff explained the process for setting up a snowmobile trail saying, “First, you have to get permission from the landowners then establish a trial. There has to be bulldozing done for that. Then you have to do the trimming of the trees and removing rocks from the trail. In some places we have to mow the brush off in the fall.
When asked what made a good snowmobile trail, Conniff simply answered: “Snow. You need a good snow base.”
Last year many snowmobilers were disappointed by the limited snowfall; many had to wait until well after Christmas to bring their sleds out of storage. Many snowmobilers will go in search of snow, even if they have to go to northern Michigan. “The snowmobilers will go to find snow,” said Conniff.
More snow needed
While this year has been far kinder to the snowmobile crowd, Conniff admits it could be better as more snow is needed. Without adequate snow coverage, many of the trails are being worn away. However, winter is far from over and most snowmobilers remain optimistic.
For those thinking of joining the Sno-Gophers the club meets at 7 p.m. on the second Tuesday of the month at the groomer building next to the Ready Mix in Caledonia.