Aside from an early snowfall that was expected to fall on parts of the Twin Cities metro area midweek, it’s still a bit early for most people to start seriously thinking about snow.
But for members of the Carver County Snowrunners, the local snowmobiling club, it’s never too early to start thinking about winter. Some members of that group have been busy for more than a month already, starting to prepare and groom trails so that when the snow finally does start falling and the trails officially open in December, they’re in prime condition.
“We’re already out there discing,” Snowrunners president Scott Wakefield said in reference to the process of leveling and compacting the soil where the trails run across farmer’s fields, most of them only recently harvested. “We try to start that kind of stuff at least 60 days in advance of the trail opening in case there are any issues, because then you have 60 days to work with.”
According to Wakefield, the discing process can be intensive. When farmers use a chisel plow in their fields, which dig only a few inches into the ground, the process is much easier. But Wakefield said most farmers in this area use moldboard plows, which dig 18-to-20-inch ruts into the soil that need to be leveled and flattened along the trail before the snow falls.
With 98 miles of trails for the local club to maintain, discing can become a lengthy task. That doesn’t even include the removal of trees that may have fallen across trails during summer storms. Wakefield said if there are a number of trees that have fallen in one area, it can take as many as three or four weekends to get them cleared. The group also is responsible for placing signs and trail markers along their portions of the state’s trails.
“We had a deal just the other night where we made 400 brand new posts,” Wakefield said. “We were cutting the posts, welding the nuts onto the posts and attaching the signs.”
All the hard work certainly paid off last year, Wakefield said. The season got off to a slow start in terms of snowfall, but the season ended up lasting well into the spring, with snow on the ground into May, even though the trails technically close in March.
Not only was it a long season, but Wakefield also said it was a fantastic season in terms of quality trails.
“The trails were in the best condition I’ve ever seen them, and I’ve been riding in Carver County for about 30 years,” he said. “That has a lot to do with the weather conditions. The snow has to be able to pack just right, and you have to have weather conditions that are conducive to making good trails. And the groomers were great.”
Wakefield said the excitement from last year’s successful season is carrying over to this year. A lot of that has to do with projections for higher than average amounts of snow this year.
“The excitement is there,” Wakefield said. The Farmer’s Almanac predicted 75 inches of snow this year, and last year we had 68. The average is 66. So there definitely is some excitement and momentum going into this year.”
The momentum within the Carver County Snowrunners seems to have been building for several years. The group’s membership is now all the way up to 148, an all-time high, and up from 129 members the year before. Wakefield said that growth is in large part because his club is making a more concerted effort to promote itself.
“We’re out more, and doing things as a club,” he said. “We go to the open houses now. We had a booth at the Carver County Fair. We’re just being more active in the community, being more out there, so people are more aware of who we are.”
But Wakefield said the Carver County club may also be benefitting from another phenomenon over which it has no control. As urban sprawl continues to move outward from the metro area, metro trails are disappearing, clubs are disbanding and riders are looking for new clubs to join. The Snowrunners have become a perfect fit for many of those riders.
Wakefield said the Snowrunners, which have monthly meetings just outside of Mayer, recently gained riders from cities like Chaska, Chanhassen, Wayzata and even Plymouth.
“A lot of these guys don’t have anybody to ride with, because there aren’t many organized clubs down there,” Wakefield said. “They’ve all disbanded because they don’t have any trails.”
Urban sprawl has also had a negative effect on the Snowrunners, though. Local snowmobile clubs receive funding from the state for trail maintenance based on how many memberships and registrations there are in that region each year. The Snowrunners are one of about a dozen clubs in Region 8, which includes all of Carver County and parts of Wright and Hennepin Counties. As urban sprawl has started to affect numbers in other parts of the region, funding has decreased to the Snowrunners, even as their own membership soars.
“If registrations are down, revenue is down,” Wakefield said. “If revenue is down, less money goes out to the clubs for grooming.”
That’s why the Snowrunners, along with all the other clubs in Region 8, are busy preparing for a fundraiser on Saturday, Nov. 16. The event, which will be called Snowblast 2013 and will be held at the Medina Ballroom, will include exhibitors and vendors, including representatives from all four major snowmobile manufacturers. There will also be a swap meet outside the ballroom.
The event runs from 10 a.m. until midnight, with food and drink available throughout the day. The $10 ticket also includes a performance from the Devon Worley Band, featuring the teenage Minnesota country singer. She will play from 8 p.m. until midnight.
Wakefield said this will be the first time all the clubs from the region are together under one roof at the same time, so it should make for good networking opportunities. More than anything, though, it will be about raising much needed funds for trail grooming.
“We need to promote the region more than we need to promote our own club,” Wakefield said, “because if there aren’t enough registrations in the region, it cuts back on our funding, and it affects us.”
Contact Matt Bunke at [email protected]