Hook and Bullet Club

by Nick Wognum

If you don’t own or drive a snowmobile you may not be aware of what it takes to make a top-notch trail system.
In the Ely area we have three groups working on trails, the clubs (Ely Igloo, Babbitt Snowmobile & ATV and the Vermilion Penguins in Tower).
Those clubs take care of miles and miles of trails. They own grooming tractors, drags and snowmobiles used to keep trails in top shape. Some have paid employees, some volunteer, it all comes together to make the trails great.
The Minnesota DNR takes care of the Taconite (Ely to Grand Rapids) and the Arrowhead (Tower to International Falls) trails. There has been a big turnover in employees there but it sounds like the grooming skills have now been passed to the new group of employees.
Groomer operators are often out on the trails in the middle of the night. That’s when the traffic is the least and it lets the snow set up and harden so the trails stay smoother for longer periods of time.
But it’s not the best time to have a break down. Especially when it’s cold. The 20 below mark on the thermometer seems to be the magic temp when metal changes properties and becomes brittle. Or it’s Murphy’s Law and stuff breaks when the weather is at its worst.
Right now the Ely club isn’t even able to use one of its big diesel tractors to groom between Mud Creek Road and Lake Vermilion. The creek has created a flowage on the trail so instead Bill Hane has been trailering a special snowmobile and drag out there to keep that section in shape for the Igloo Club.
Snowmobile owners pay around $180 for a three-year license with that money going into a dedicated fund that is supposed to go back into trails. But the DNR often finds ways (including enforcement) to continually tap that fund. Along with a portion of the unrefunded gas tax, those dollars are what pay for trails to get groomed.
But it’s nowhere near enough. Clubs like the Igloos sell pull-tabs around the area that help pay for equipment. Those tractors can run a quarter of a million dollars or more.
And there are thousands of volunteer hours that go into these trail systems as well, from brushing to signing to putting in and taking out stakes on the lakes to mark safe passage.
Today the Fun Run will attempt to again raise monies to give to the three local clubs. Over $500,000 has been raised through the Fun Run and it’s all gone into the trail system. Money raised locally that stays local.
Snowmobiling provides a huge boost to our local economy in the winter. When the trails are groomed and we have lots of snow, those trails pave the way for money to flow into town.
We’re just fortunate to be able to live here and have great trail systems to ride on. Thank you to all who make that possible.