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Thursday, 16 January 2014 16:20

Wisconsin snowmobile clubs maintains trails while building lasting friendships

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A snowmobile rider crosses a road outside of Fontana in Walworth County. Club volunteers maintain hundreds of miles of trails throughout Rock and Walworth counties, part of a 25,000-mile trails system statewide. Wisconsin has more miles of snowmobile trails than any other state in the nation. A snowmobile rider crosses a road outside of Fontana in Walworth County. Club volunteers maintain hundreds of miles of trails throughout Rock and Walworth counties, part of a 25,000-mile trails system statewide. Wisconsin has more miles of snowmobile trails than any other state in the nation. File photo by Terry Mayer/staff

STATELINE NEWS -- The sharp dives and rebounds in temperatures recently have made maintaining snowmobile trails difficult, but seasoned riders know that’s part of the package.

From their point of view, it’s been a great snowmobiling season so far, and they’re banking on things only getting better.

If you’re not already one of the avid enthusiasts who hit Rock County’s 200-plus miles of groomed trails every year, it might surprise you to find out just how ubiquitous the activity is in both the county and the state.

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Wisconsin had 225,000 registered snowmobiles in 2013, second only to Minnesota’s 250,000, according to statistics compiled by the International Snowmobile Manufacturer’s Association.

 

In Rock County, there are nine separate snowmobiling clubs along with 14 more in Walworth County. On top of the work they do to maintain their respective portions of the trail system, you often can rub elbows with them at their events and fundraisers.

The Clinton Fencehoppers, a snowmobile group based in Clinton, will host its annual vintage fun ride event on Feb. 8 with registration at 10 a.m.

"It’s a 30-mile or so ride we all take together. We start at our clubhouse in Clinton and head toward Darien and Sharon and then loop back," said Clinton resident and Fencehopper member Brad Carter. "We’ll have hot dogs and chili and a raffle when we arrive back. Vintage snowmobiles are encouraged, but there is no age limitation on snowmobiles. They can be as old as you want or brand new; my daughter rides an old snowmobile from the ’70s that belongs to my brother."

The vintage fun ride had its inaugural year back in 2011, but Carter said that less that 20 people showed up. Two years ago the ride was cancelled due to lack of snow, but last year was more successful with a turnout of around 40 people. Weather permitting, Carter hopes that the event will continue to grow.

"After the first two years, people were talking about it, and it sort of took a leap up in popularity," Carter said. "We’ve had people in their 70s go and kids as young as 9."

The Fencehoppers got their start back in 1971. The club took its name from the practice of building large platforms like ramps in the snow that they’d use to climb over the fences that separated nearby farm pastures in the ’70s and ’80s. Since the development of the trails systems this practice has fallen out of use, but they retain the name.

"Nowadays, hopping fences isn’t really a problem anymore because we have great trails," Carter said. "We even have little bridges to take us over streams and ditches."

Countywide system

The Fencehoppers maintain about 26 miles of the trail, according to Carter. The Rock and Walworth county trail systems connects with their neighboring counties and form an even larger network that spreads throughout the state.

"It’s basically possible to ride across the entire state of Wisconsin using the trails; it’s a vast network," Carter said.

Together with the Rock County Snowmobile Alliance, which includes the other groups in the area, the Fencehoppers post and remove signage every season as well as groom the trails throughout the season.

"We’ve done a lot of trail grooming so far this season, it’s probably already been as many grooming hours so far this season than we had all of last year," said John Stohr, director of the Walworth County Snowmobile Alliance.

Walworth County’s trail system is slightly larger, at just over 230 miles, than Rock County’s. Walworth County also is home to 14 different clubs, but one thing that all the clubs seem to have in common is that they are proud to volunteer and help provide an atmosphere for their favorite winter activity.

"The clubs take care of all the marking and brushing and the actual grooming is done by Walworth County, but it’s all covered through grants from the state. No taxpayers’ money is used at all, it just comes from snowmobile registrations and user stickers," said Stohr.

Statewide support

Legislators trying to consolidate, organize and develop more effective ways to serve the public might want to consider taking a page from the Association of Wisconsin Snowmobile Clubs handbook. The AWSC, through its approximately 600 member clubs throughout the state, maintains and develops more than 25,000 miles of interconnected trails, making Wisconsin the top state in the nation in terms of trail mileage.

"It’s the volunteers from our snowmobile clubs that are actually responsible for building the trail system each year," said AWSC president Doug Johnson. "Most of our snowmobile trails are on private property and that property is for the most part farmland, so when we put our trails down in the fall they go across a lot of cropland, so come springtime, when the snow leaves, we’ve got to pull up our signs and put everything away, and that is the work of our volunteers."

The AWSC acts as a club advocate and organizer for snowmobiling in the state. They host an annual convention in the spring and publish their magazine, Wisconsin Snowmobile News.

They also participate and support events hosted by the individual clubs, such as the Snowmobile Tour for Multiple Sclerosis that takes place in Lac du Flambeau on Jan. 23-25.

"Our organization is funded through club memberships. When you join a snowmobile club here in the state of Wisconsin, part of the dues that you pay your local club come to the association," Johnson said.

"So we consider our snowmobile trail system to be a self-funded system, because we don’t use any general purpose revenues to fund it."

Stohr, who has already been hitting the trails, said, "I hit like 500 miles of trail this year so far already and the riding is really good. It’s nice because in Walworth County you get a variety of terrain, and gas is available where you need it.

In Michigan you have to be careful where you go cause you might not find gas."

Regardless of your personal involvement, the many clubs involved with this trail system deserve a tip of the hat for their efforts. And if you’re headed out to the trails sometime this season you might see Stohr and Carter, who are both already racking up miles, zip past you.

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