Igloo Club makes major investments, now needs financial support for trails
by Nick Wognum
The Ely Igloo Snowmobile Club provides a crucial economic component for the area in the winter months.
In order to provide smooth trails, the club has made some major investments in the past year.
On top of the list is a new Tucker tractor to groom the Tomahawk Trail that connects Ely to the North Shore.
The $250,000 machine replaces a machine that was nearly 25 years old. The club is currently leasing the machine as it pursues grants, most of which have a required match.
“We are leasing it with the intent to buy and the grant money will allow us to buy it used,” said club president Rico Mondati.
The club also purchased a building to work on equipment. The former Northwoods Collision is now the home of the club’s tractors, ATV and snowmobiles, all used to groom trails around Ely.
While the club does receive funding each year through the DNR’s Grant In Aid program, it comes nowhere near what’s needed to groom not only the Tomahawk, but the lake trails to Tower and Babbitt along with area trails.
These trails include:
• 13 Corners Trail
• Ely Igloo Trail
• White Iron Lake to Birch Lake
• Grassy Lake Trails
• Bass Lake Trail
• Little Long Trails
• Shagawa-Fall Lake
• Ely-Winton RR Grade
• Fall Lake-Cedar Lake
• Bianchi Trail
Those trails are highly sought after by visitors and local riders alike.
“As the club goes, basically, we’re investing back in Ely with the investments we have made,” said Mondati. “We had to buy this building because we never had a home and the city wasn’t going to be able to rent the old garage to us anymore.”
The club has more square footage than they did before but in addition to the purchase price the club installed a new heating system so they can work on equipment in a heated space.
The club will be heating the building by a wood boiler.
“We really need business support. This club, if we didn’t have snowmobile trails in this town, our town would be pretty quiet. We’re feeding a lot of business, the lodging, gas and food, especially. And we want to keep the momentum going.
“It could have been just as easy to quit and be done. A lot of our equipment is used up and it’s hard to get parts for. So we were to the point where we had to buy a new machine.”
The club will still own four of the old BR tractors plus several Arrowhead drags that cost $20,000 each.
“This new machine will be at Knotted Pine and it will cut our grooming hours on each shift because these are faster in the corners. The new one doesn’t rob the power to the tracks when you’re turning.”
From Knotted Pine the Tucker will be driven north to Mattila’s Shelter and south to the North Shore Trail.
We groom over 100 miles of snowmobile trails and we are probably one of the only clubs who grooms 80 miles from their front door. That’s a hardship for us. We want to at least continue doing so as long as we can continue to afford it.
“We would really like some more means of raising money for matching grants,” said Mondati.
Last year the Igloo Club purchased a 2022 John Deere Gator and uses that for grooming higher traffic local trails including from Ely to Lake Vermilion.
Grooming trails is an expensive task, from equipment to wages to fuel.
“We’re worried about the high cost of fuel, we may have to look at limited grooming. What we’re hoping is some local businesses will donate to keep winter tourism going,” said Mondati.
“We are looking for any donation and we are a 501c3,” said Mondati.
The club is licensed to operate charitable gambling sites at Dee's Bar, Grand Ely Lodge, Silver Rapids Lodge, Boathouse and the Junction Bar in Babbitt.
“We would’ve folded without gambling, it’s been huge for us. Last year we got $80,000 from gambling. And we’re glad to see the Fun Run coming back, that helps us as well.”
Mondati said the club has been noted as having one of the 10 best trails in the country with the Tomahawk Trail.
In order for riders to find their way, the club also puts out and takes down hundreds of stakes with reflectors on area lakes each year.
The Ely Igloo Snowmobile Club was the first club to organize in the country in 1960. The Ely Igloos were one of the founding members of the International Snowmobile Association - ISA, then to become Minnesota United Snowmobile Association - MnUSA.
The Ely Igloo Snowmobile Club has been teaching snowmobile safety classes for over 50 years.
These classes teach boys and girls of at least 11 years of age about the proper etiquette of snowmobiling and the rules of the trail.
The club has around 150 members and meets monthly on the last Wednesday of the month.
“We’re always looking for volunteers to join the club. Thank God we’re getting a few younger people because Medicare recipients can’t do all of this.”
Mondati said if businesses would like to donate they can mail a check to Ely Igloo Club, PO Box 464, Ely, MN 55731.
“Without these trails this town is really going to be hurting. We have to keep it going and it’s really important for a lot of businesses.”