By Robert Williams
There are more than 200,000 snowmobiles registered in Minnesota and 22,000 miles of groomed snowmobile trails. The vast majority of those trails are maintained by volunteers across the state, including four stretches of trails spanning 60 miles that are cared for by the Wolf Pack Snowmobile Club.
The club has groomed the trails since its inception decades ago. Trail maintenance is a top priority for the club. These trails get no county support as they are located either on state land through the Smokey Hills or across private property.
This year, the club got a bit of a reprieve after last year’s tornadoes that whipped through the area left far more devastation in the woods than a normal summer. Regardless, it is a strenuous task for the 25 members that showed up for the annual trail clearing on Saturday, Oct. 7. Many of those members have been in the club for decades as a family. The biggest need they have is more members, especially from younger generations.
“We need people; we encourage membership,” member Harvey Ness said.
Wolf Pack Snowmobile Club president Tyson Aho reiterated the missing demographic in the club’s membership.
“You can see who is here, the age group,” Aho said. “It’s tough. That’s where we’re struggling, finding younger people that want to do it. The ones we have in it, they have family members who have been doing it for 40 years.”
According to the Minnesota United Snowmobilers Association, maintenance of approximately 97 percent of trails in the state are the responsibility of MnUSA, snowmobile clubs and volunteers. MnUSA is the statewide organization that supports the clubs and volunteers as the voice at the legislature, promoting positive legislation to protect, enhance and fund the trail system. MnUSA depends upon membership dues to fund these activities.
A shared love for sleds makes membership more than just clearing trails.
“Just the camaraderie of the people; the atmosphere is always nice out here,” said Aho. “We all get along.”
Wolf Pack club members each bring a dish and the club provides steaks for a filling meal after a long day of trail clearing. It is one of the numerous get-togethers that go along with membership.
The club sponsors a summer bean bag tournament during Harvest Festival. While the club could use the funds, they return all the proceeds to participants during the tournament. Each year, the club has an annual trail ride.
Last year’s annual ride was from Wolf Lake to Northern Lights Casino in Walker with a weekend of snowmobiling around the Walker area planned.
“Getting to go on club rides like this is a bonus for everybody who works throughout the year,” said member Randy Torma prior to last February’s ride.
The club also has offseason rides and campouts planned for the summer months.
Beside membership dues, the club relies heavily on raffle sales each year. The 2023-24 raffle tickets are available until January.
The grand prize is a 2023 Polaris Ranger SP570 from Up North Power and Sports of Park Rapids. The next five prizes are gun packages sponsored by Johnson Performance of Frazee, highlighted by a Mossberg Patriot Super Bantam 6.5 Creedmoor for second place. Cash prizes from $100-$500 are also available with only 7,500 raffle tickets available.
The drawing will be held January 20 at 1:30 p.m., at the Wolf Lake Lions Community Hall.
The raffle is essential to in-season grooming. The club used a state grant to purchase a groomer from the Two Inlets Forest Riders Snowmobile Club and the raffle provides the needed funds for operation and maintenance.
“We need it because maintenance costs on the groomer add up fast; last year we were over 7-grand in repairs,” said Aho. “It doesn’t take long and it adds up.”
Many riders think the Department of Natural Resources has a big hand in trail maintenance. The DNR does provide some grant funding, but constructs, grooms and maintains only 740 miles of the 22,000 mile snowmobile trail system in Minnesota.
Other funding comes from snowmobile registration, snowmobile trail pass stickers and 1 percent of unrefunded gas tax which represents the tax paid on gas purchased by snowmobilers for non-highway use. This money is deposited in a dedicated snowmobile account to pay for snowmobile trails, enforcement and DNR administration.
Currently approximately $14.6 million is appropriated annually from the snowmobile account for the development, maintenance and operation of the state snowmobile system. $8.4 million is used to run the grant programs to the clubs. An additional $6.2 million is appropriated to the DNR for enforcement, state trails and management of the snowmobile account.
The grants to the clubs provide reimbursement for a portion of their operating costs. The grants are paid on a per mile basis to the clubs based on the area of the state where the trails are located. The clubs provide the volunteer labor necessary to do the maintenance on the trails.
Each year, the area snowmobile clubs are in dire need of people as much as funding.
For more information on the Wolf Pack Snowmobile Club, raffle tickets, and membership visit the Wolf Pack Snowmobile Club on Facebook or email email@example.com.
For statewide information visit www.mnsnowmobiler.org.