Like many people I collect vintage snowmobile stuff, specifically old snowmobile magazines from the late sixties and early seventies when there were over a hundred snowmobile manufacturers pumping out sleds in the US and Canada. Magazines as thick as a National Geographic just to fit the fifty pages of ads from the manufacturers! The other day I was thumbing through the August 1971 issue of Snow Sports magazine, and ran across the article that I took the above excerpt from. It struck me that here we are exactly 50 years later and this same article could have been written yesterday, in fact we see this sort of story every year when the trails open. Just like we can’t escape lying politicians, it seems we can also not get away from “that guy” in the snowmobile world. We see posts from clubs showing snowmobile tracks going right past the “Stay On Trail” and “No Trespassing” and “Do Not Enter” signs that inevitably get trails closed. We can have a thousand snowmobilers in a row follow the rules but then as the saying goes, “it only takes one bad apple to ruin the bunch” and someone decides the lure of an open field is too great and that’s it, trail closed. Reading this article it was disheartening to me that the same problems clubs had in the early days of the sport to secure places to ride still haunt us fifty years later. I hope that this year we can be smarter as a group and that when you see those signs or think about making illegal exhaust modifications to your sled that you think twice about it and don’t be the one guy that gets the trail that thousands of people use shut down forever.
Recently our snowmobile club suffered the passing of Bob Klein, our long time club president and MNUSA’s region 7 Director. Bob had been a member of the club for forty years and had held nearly every position as well as holding several positions in Region 7. He had a hand in the development of many of the trails in Northeast Minnesota that we enjoy today as well as being the key person behind the operation and maintenance of our club’s old Tucker groomer, at one time or another he had literally had his hands on every nut and bolt on that machine. Bob’s passing made me reflect on the history of our club and countless other clubs in the United States and Canada. Our club was formed in the late 60s by a group of enthusiastic snowmobilers in the Lakeside neighborhood of Duluth. Over the years they oversaw the construction on the Duluth snowmobile trail system and were key players in the development of the now iconic CJ Ramstad North Shore State Trail.
Our club’s history mirrors that of countless other snowmobile clubs throughout North America. In the early days of the sport, a handful of snowmobilers came together to start a club and create a series of well-defined trails and places to ride. Men and women riding on machines now only seen in vintage shows pulling old box spring mattresses behind their sleds to flatten out the trails they had created cut by hand with chain saws to get them to a popular watering hole or pizza place. Over the years those old machines and mattresses were replaced by groomers and drags and club houses and garages with lights and heat and the enormous network of trails we enjoy today. Minnesota itself has over 22,000 miles of trails, the seeds of which were started 6 decades ago by a small group of snowmobilers flying around with snowmobiles powered by a fire breathing ten horse motors. We owe our entire sport to these people, the unsung heroes that were out grooming in their one piece snowmobile suits and putting in countless hours of clearing trails through wooded wilderness one foot at a time.
Luckily our club is going strong with a huge influx of new members, helping to keep the club alive. Unfortunately there are many clubs out there that are like our club was years ago when our club consisted of a half dozen members whose average age was about 60 that were miraculously keeping things going. I first found out about our club when I enrolled my daughter in the snowmobile safety class that the club put on. If your club holds classes it is a great place to recruit new members. Once I saw how few members were left and how old they were I started recruiting my friends. We had other members join when they saw us out doing summer trail work and, upon realizing how old most of these guys with chainsaws were they decided to recruit some of their friends. Little by little we had an influx of newer younger members and before you knew it the club had a website, and facebook page and started posting stuff on social media which attracted even more members who previously had no idea we existed. Now we have a solid roster of sixty members with more new members coming in all the time.
Unfortunately our club is the exception to the rule. Most people have no idea what it takes to keep the trail system going. They also have no idea that it’s all volunteers and local clubs that maintain and groom the trails. Every time we get new members they are surprised to find out that it’s all club members that volunteer to do all the work to keep the trails cleared and groomed. Without the work of the clubs the trails would cease to exist. Our club tells our members that even if they go work out on the trail for a half hour a year it doesn’t matter to us because a little is better than not having them in the club at all. This is another issue that clubs struggle with. Everyone has different levels of time and availability. Everyone knows it’s usually a handful of members that do a majority of the work but the more members you have the more work can be done. An all-day project for two people suddenly becomes a half hour long project for 20 people. The bigger the pool of members you have to draw from the bigger pool of talent you have and the more connections you have to get things done. Maybe it’s a guy with a special tool or a connection at city hall or someone that knows somebody at the power company or friends of a land owner that owns a key section of trail, you never know, each new member brings something different to the table and the more the merrier. Lots of times members are able to contribute in ways that never even occurred to them. The more members you have the more secure your future is and the nicer your trails will be for years to come and the longer you will be able to carry on the legacy of those that came before you.
Sadly every year there are clubs that fold and trails that get shut down simply because there is no one left to maintain them. As active snowmobilers, we owe it to those few men and women that started all of this for us to keep their vision alive and preserve our sport for the next generation. If you are not a club member go out and join one, you may be surprised at how fulfilling it is and you will have a hand in ensuring that the trails stay open for the next generation of snowmobilers.
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