Before you get all excited and send in your test rider resume to our office, you need to understand something. Your help is both wanted and needed, but not here at the magazine. Instead, the sport of snowmobiling wants you and needs you. Actually, you need each other – here’s why.
Years ago when snowmobile trails were first created for all of us to ride and enjoy they were (primarily) created by the “locals”; volunteers who lived in that area that wanted to create safe trails to ride right there where they lived and to connect popular destinations in their local community. These “locals” did all of the work, from getting permission to place a trail across the land, be it public or private, to clearing the brush to installing culverts to installing the posts and signs along the trail to packing the snow, and finally, actually grooming the trails.
Before this, snowmobiling was pretty much a cross country affair and in many areas there was little public land to ride on so legal riding was quite limited (lakes and ditches around here). While there were some trails with paid and/or government employees doing the work and the grooming, the snowmobile trail system that has been built over the past 40+ years has primarily been one of volunteerism, from creation to construction and maintenance. People loved snowmobiling and did what they could to do it even more. It was their passion.
In recent years many of these same clubs went through a period of decline. Whatever the reason, the very same people who had been doing all of the work for so many years were still doing it. Fewer people were taking part in doing the work and the core group was getting spread pretty thin. Finding snowmobilers willing to do the work was getting tougher and tougher. Finding anyone willing to do the work was getting tougher, for that matter. Some areas were fairly remote with a small population to begin with.
Many clubs found themselves short on members, short on volunteer labor and were no longer able to get all of the work done. Slowly the trails started to suffer, volunteers became burnt out and discouraged, club involvement started to dwindle. Some clubs even folded, while others limped along at a minimal level, struggling to pay the bills let alone build the bridges, clear the trails and ultimately groom them. Some trails actually started to disappear, reclaimed by the forest.
But, now a curious thing has been happening. Some of the work is now being done by snowmobilers who don’t even live in the area. No longer is it simply a matter of just the “locals” joining and running the snowmobile clubs. People who might have a cabin or a camp or simply those who enjoy a particular riding area are now getting involved in these clubs, despite living hundreds of miles away. They might even take on a leadership role in the club. They will become a trail groomer in the winter or travel there to clear brush from the trails in the fall, simply because they love snowmobiling.
Further, when the club schedules a “work day” or “work weekend” for trail maintenance and clearing snowmobilers from hundreds of miles away will come up and take part in the activities. There simply were not enough local people (be it snowmobilers or those who understood the economic impact to their community) available to do the work to keep a snowmobile trail system open and maintained for safe enjoyment by all – locals, club members and the visiting public.
Snowmobile club members know a few things about such events – they are going to be out in the woods and ditches doing manual labor, which they know clears the mind and fills the blood with fresh oxygen, helping to make them feel better – mentally and physically. But they also enjoy the feeling of pride that they are helping to provide something so near and dear to so many of us – safe, marked and groomed trails. People feel much better about themselves when they volunteer for something they believe in. Giving of one’s self in such a manner brings great pride and satisfaction to an individual. Man is much happier when they can balance their taking and consuming with giving and producing.
And then there is the camaraderie that occurs. People with a common interest coming together to work side by side towards a common goal. A feeling of belonging, loyalty and friendship. And, just plain old having fun, as the camping and picnics afterwards are enjoyed by all.
What we’re trying to tell you is it’s OK to join and belong to a snowmobile club, even if you don’t live anywhere close to where the club is. We encourage it. Not only join, but get involved. Help get the work done. You won’t believe how much fun you’ll have getting out there and getting to know the people who really make it happen. These people are our heroes. They clear the trails of brush, install the culverts, fix the bridges, fill in the wash-outs. The army of volunteers it takes each and every winter, whether it snows or not, who do their best to have the trail system ready to go when the snow should happen to fall. And the groomers who spend their nights out grooming the trail – these people are truly special.
You can be one of them. We all can. For if we do not step up and take part, who will? If we want the trails to be open, somebody has to make it happen. And yes, they do need money to do the job as well, but this isn’t a money pitch as much as it is a call to action to get involved. Old-school members are falling by the wayside and their big shoes need to be filled. Young club members are bringing with them new ideas, fresh enthusiasm and energy. The energy of youth. Give them something to be passionate about and get out of their way. This is not only our sport, it is also their sport and will be their sport long after we’re gone. Let them get involved and embrace their spirit of change and freshness. Let them lead. Our future – and theirs – depends on it.
Kevin Beilke – Editor