The old-timers warned us it would happen someday. The calendar said December and the weather map showed a great big storm had dumped all kinds of snow up north. Figuring this would be just like any other year out of the past 50, we loaded up our sleds and headed north.
We arrived up at one of our favorite trailheads, but to our surprise there were no other rigs in the parking lot. That alone seemed strange, but we figured we were the early bird and would be sure to get the worm – first. But as we pulled in, we noticed there was no evidence of a groomer having been through. Hmm. That was odd. Hunting season was over, middle of December, plenty of snow on the ground, maybe they just haven’t made it this far yet?
We unloaded our sleds and carefully headed out. We first tried to go down the marked trail, despite not being groomed. Only made it a mile or so and there were downed trees. Wow, had there been a wind storm just through recently?
After jumping a few small trees and going around a few larger ones, it became clear to us we were fighting a losing battle. So, we decided our best option was to turn around and get back to the parking area. From there we could head out on some forest roads and hook back up to the trail system several miles later. That will work.
The forest roads were fast. Traffic from hunter’s vehicles had packed down the snow into a hard base. There were still some ruts in the road, but little gravel. It was pretty good riding.
Several miles into the ride, we came across an intersection with the groomed trail. We stopped and looked both ways. No tracks, but tall brush and branches down in both directions. Heck, this was public land so we are legal to go down it anyways, let’s see what we have here.
Much like when we first started, we quickly discovered the trail had not been cleared and only made it a mile or so and again. Trees were down, branches across the trail and clearly not groomed or packed. The local club must be a bunch of damn slackers we thought. We bought our trail permit, waited until the hunting season was over and had plenty of snow on the ground and they haven’t even been out to groom the trails yet? Hell, they hadn’t even cleared them yet!
We’d never had this happen before. Not like this. So once again we turned around and went back to the forest roads. Not ideal, but legal to ride and enough snow to keep from wearing out the skis and runners.
We ran forest roads all day long and started to get low on gas, so we decided to work our way over to the state highway and run the ditch down to a gas station. Here along the state highway we finally found some other sled tracks. That’s a good sign.
As we pulled into the gas station it was pretty quiet. No other sleds. No other trucks or trailers. After fueling, we went inside to get something to drink and pay for the gas.
The old guy behind the counter looked familiar. We’d seen him before. He recognized us as well. “How you boys doing?” he asked.
“Great!” we responded. “You have any idea why the groomers haven’t been out?”
“Yep,” he replied. “Can’t get anyone to clear the trails. The same 4-5 people that have been doing it for the past 20 years are getting too old. They’ve been trying to get some younger folks to come help, but nobody ever shows up. The last windstorm that come through, that was it. They said they were shot. Just couldn’t keep up anymore. Once the snow packs down they’ll try to get out and clear the trees – again – but for now they’re not grooming.”
Our hearts about shrunk to our knees. One of our favorite riding areas had great snow and the trails weren’t even open. Not because of warm weather, not because of a lack of snow. Because nobody would show up to help clear the trails. Even if you don’t know how to safely run a chainsaw it doesn’t take much talent to move brush, so there’s no excuse.
Who knew? The long-time club members, that’s who. Year after year they had been asking for help. Sure, they had a list of local club members and some others that send them money each year, but when it came time to roll up their sleeves and go out and fire up the chainsaw and get the trees and brush cleared so a groomer could come through without getting destroyed they couldn’t get anyone to help. Year after year they asked for help. Might get a couple here or there, but nobody would show up like they did. As they got older, their ability to do ALL of the work slipped away to less and less. And finally, this year, they had the trails clear and ready to go, but a late wind storm came through and they just couldn’t get out there to do it all over – again.
So, the groomers sat still. Trails were not clear, trails were not rideable. Sure, in this particular area it was public land, but that didn’t matter. Somebody has to go through the system, mile by mile, and remove the hazards. Somebody has to cut the down trees. Somebody has to dig the post holes, put in the posts and put the signs up. “Somebody” had been the same body for too many years.
We had been warned this would happen. For years. But every year the trails would be cleared, the trails would be opened. Not this year. If we had only listened. We could still ride forest roads, but after a few more snowfalls and some more traffic they would get pretty rough. We could ride ditches, but again, with more snow and traffic they would also get rough. Riding a nice smooth trail through the woods was pretty sweet. But, like most good things in life, you have to be willing to make a few sacrifices to be able to enjoy the good stuff. Unless you’re a freeloader. Freeloaders let everyone else do the work so they don’t have to.
Did this actually happen to us? Perhaps you should be asking if this could happen to you? Do you have any clue who the people are that clear the trails where YOU ride? Do you know how old they are? How many of them do the work? What their names are? What their story is? For that matter, do you even know what club grooms the trails where you ride? Do you even belong to that club?
Think about it. You’ve been warned. You know what you need to do.
Kevin Beilke – Editor