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Hook and bullet club - snowmobiling

From our office on Sheridan Street I can hear when there are a lot of snowmobilers in town. The gas station across the street is a popular spot for sleds to fill up and you can usually hear the machines driving up to the pumps.It’s a reminder to me of the economic impact snowmobilers make as part of our winter tourism economy. That’s a good thing because when there’s no snow, cash registers at our hotels, restaurants, gas stations and resorts don’t ring as much.But snowmobiling is different than other forms of recreation. The sport requires the massive participation of clubs to maintain and groom trails. There are no other forms of recreation as demanding of volunteers as snowmobiling. This was all going through my head last week when we gassed up our sleds and headed out across Shagawa Lake on our way to Babbitt.We have found snowmobiling to be a great family sport but my family and many others know there’s much more than just hopping on a sled and riding. For one, no matter how new or old your machine is, you’re very likely to spend some time working on it. Snowmobiles require regular maintenance and the longer you own them, the more work you end up doing yourself. We don’t have a dealer in Ely anymore, it’s been several decades since John Deere snowmobiles were being sold here and even longer since Ski Doos were sold up the hill on Sheridan Street. We do have some top-notch spots to get your sleds worked on, including Joe’s Marine and Chainsaw Sisters. And the owners of those businesses are very involved in the local snowmobile club. I’ve been out with them when we’re brushing trails or putting up stakes on area lakes to guide riders along their way. It’s another service the club provides and another piece of the puzzle in our winter tourism picture. This week the Igloo club will conduct youth snowmobile safety classes in the library at Washington Elementary and hopefully we’ll have another good group of young, eager students. They are the future of the sport, even if some are only in fifth grade. We do our best to teach them about the machines they long to ride and the responsibilities that go along with getting a permit from the Minnesota DNR at age 12. The most direct impact clubs have on snowmobiling is grooming. I’ve served as a trail administrator for several years now and I’ve had my share of phone calls from people looking to find out the trail conditions or letting me know the conditions aren’t to their liking.The vast majority of trails in Minnesota are groomed by clubs, although the DNR does groom many of the major thoroughfares. For instance, the Taconite Trail that runs from Ely all the way to Grand Rapids is a DNR trail.The Tomahawk Trail that starts in Ely and goes all the way to the North Shore is the responsibility of the Igloo club. We have two grooming tractors that pull massive drags up and down the 90 miles of trail all hours of the day and night. The club just traded in an older Bombardier tractor and purchased a new one. The purchase price was $99,000 and we had to get a loan for half of that from Queen City Federal. We’re hoping to make the payments from profits of the sale of pull-tabs through our charitable gambling operations at Grand Ely Lodge, the Portage and coming soon to Cranberry’s. Selling pull-tabs became a necessary evil for us to be able to update equipment needed to groom not only the Tomahawk but the trails around Ely as well. We groom trails that connect area lakes such as White Iron to Birch, Burntside to Vermilion, Shagawa to Fall and the popular Grassy Loop up around the Echo Trail. We don’t receive any reimbursement for grooming those trails so our fundraising abilities are tested continuously.I got involved with the club with a single goal: to improve the trail conditions in the Ely area. Sometimes we meet that goal, sometimes we don’t and usually because a piece of equipment breaks down and we’re doing our darndest to get it up and running again.Most snowmobilers aren’t aware of all these things clubs do for the sport and we need to work on that education issue. But all of this did give me something to think about that day with Evan sitting in front of me and Mary, Jake, Megan, Kelsey, Steve, Bev and Larry zinging along the lakes and portages.I came to a simple conclusion: snowmobiling is a great sport but it takes a bit more work than most others. Getting out and riding here in God’s country makes all that work seem worthwhile.

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