With the recent significant snowfall, area snowmobile enthusiasts have been busy getting their machines (“sleds” as most call them) ready for action on the over 230 miles of groomed trails that make up Sherburne County’s network. And while many motorists might also notice the nicely leveled trails and see the occasional grooming machine at work, few probably understand the highly orchestrated effort involved in keeping the snow routes open and properly maintained for an optimal riding experience.
Sher. Co. Trail Assn.
The Sherburne County Snowmobile Trail Association is currently made up of fifteen members, five individuals who are appointed from each of the three recognized clubs in the county: Big Lake Sno-cruisers, River City (Elk River) Snow Riders and Elk Lake (Zimmerman) Easy Riders. Each of the clubs have been in existence for nearly 50 years.
The association’s goal is to manage the many duties associated with maintaining the trails in the county, which includes off-season maintenance, grooming during the season and the establishment of new sections of trail.
Of the approximately 230 miles of trail, 186 are designated as Grant-in-aid trail miles, meaning the state of MN provides some funding for the maintenance and grooming. The other 50 miles or so are considered club trails, meaning that the local organizations fundraise in order to be able to provide the extra miles.
Larry Gallus serves as the volunteer Grooming Coordinator for the association, while his assistant is Scotty Harder. Together, the two coordinate maintenance for the three grooming machines and schedule the operators who take to the trails to see that they are in tip-top shape for the riders.
A total of 12 members of the association have been trained to operate the groomers, while most of the work is done during the overnight hours. The drivers receive a minimal stipend for their work, while Harder and Gallus are not paid anything for their efforts.
“It is our goal to try and maintain the trails at least once a week,” says Gallus, who has been involved in the group for the past 15 years. “We try to do it at night because it is safer and also it provides for the best snow conditions.”
At night, the grooming machines are well-lit and easier to spot by the other riders on the trail. In addition, the snow is usually at a better temperature to be smoothed out and then “sets up” for a better finished product.
Harder, who took a five day training course on proper grooming techniques, notes that the group tries to do the grooming from Sunday evening until Thursday nights, all in order to avoid the busiest times on the trail.
“It’s all about communication and safety,” says Harder, who often grooms the trails in the northern part of the county. “We need six inches of snow on the ground before we can groom the trails.”
In total, the association has six different “runs”, or grooming routes, each consisting of six to 12 hours worth of work to complete. In ideal conditions, grooming all of the trails in the county takes approximately 48 hours.
Harder and Gallus also stress the importance of the riders staying on the trails and not trespassing on surrounding land.
“People need to remember that on a county road, there’s between 33 and 66 feet of right of way,” says Harder. “On State roads like 169, there can be from 77 feet to 100 feet.”
“The drivers need to know where they are driving and ensure that they are not trespassing,” adds Gallus.
All three clubs sponsor training events to help train new drivers and to certify youth who are just beginning their snowmobiling careers.
In fact, over 60 youth were certified this past December between events hosted by the Sno-cruisers and Easy Riders.
Both men say that the association could not operate without the dedication of the club’s members. There’s a great deal of fundraising involved and the members perform many hours of maintenance on the trails, usually in the fall after the hunting season. There are trees to be cleared, signs to be installed and many other tasks that take a significant amount of time.
The Sno-cruisers will be hosting a Hot Dish event at Lupulin Brewing on January 15, while the Easy Riders will be part of the Midwest Ride-in, a vintage snowmobile event and swap meet held January 28-30 at the ERX Motor Park in Elk River.
In addition, many local charitable groups are also part of the effort. Gallus and Harder list the Clear Lake Lions, Zimmerman Fire Department and Elk River Lions as some of their top donors.
“Working together, the association does our best to make the trails safe and enjoyable for everyone involved,” says Gallus.