Today was a magnificent day for the Bo-Boen annual trail brushing. Once again, club members came out in force to clean debris off more than 100 miles of St. Germain’s snowmobile trails. We had a perfect couple of inches of snow that aided in identifying potential problem areas for groomer and snowmobile passage.
After posting pictures of the snowy conditions on social media, I received a question asking what does brushing a snowmobile trail means? It seemed like a good idea to explain the who, what, when, where, and how of snowmobile trails.
The explanation of brushing will be at the end of this article as it is just about the last thing done on a trail before grooming and riding commence.
How does a new trail come to be? A club is born. Snowmobile enthusiasts get together and develop strategies for growing the club and where they want to establish snowmobile trails.
There are both private and public lands available for potential snowmobile trail development. The club designs a proposed trail system using one or both of these available resources. They may or may not decide to apply for funding through the Wisconsin state snowmobile program that is overseen by the Department of Natural Resources.
If they do want to be a part of the statewide system of trails, they must apply for funding that will help pay for the development of new trails as well as funding for what it costs to open the trails and the annual maintenance.
Not only must they get official permission from both private and public landowners, leases also need to be obtained, proof of insurance, and plans outlined for how the club plans to manage their trails. Documentation is submitted outlining the work done.
Clubs may also have trails that are not a part of the state system. Once again, the club obtains permission and insurance for trails that cross the land.
Then there is the equipment. Clubs and counties have their methods of running all the equipment they need. But that is another story for another time.
Most of the time, trails are created by the clubs before they apply to become a part of the state trail system. The actual construction of the trails includes approved signage posted per regulations. This practice ensures uniform standards are in place to avoid confusion and, most importantly, make the trails safe for riding.
The clubs accomplish all this work through volunteer club members. There tends to be a lot of confusion about trails that are part of the state trail system. The funding for the system is generated only through snowmobile and club activity. These funds are dispersed by the Wisconsin Snowmobile Recreation Council, sometimes referred to as the Governor’s Council. None of the funding comes through any other source of taxes. None.
The responsibility for managing the trail program falls squarely on the club or county organization. Though there is funding provided for clubs participating in the state trail system, it is only a fraction of what is needed. The snowmobile organizations raise money through memberships, fundraisers, and map ads, and a myriad of other sources to run their programs. State funding comes from registration fees, trail passes, the snowmobile gas tax formula, and more snowmobile revenues. Clubs work year ’round to ensure the viability of their programs.
The start of the snowmobile season begins with the clubs meeting in early fall. For many clubs and county organizations, trail brushing is the first hands-on activity for the season by club members. Club members bring their equipment to clear trails of debris that can hinder groomer and snowmobiling activity.
The Bo Boens welcomed approximately 50 workers (because of Covid-19 precautions, there was no group photo this year). There are several groups of workers that brushed the local trail system, divided into sections.
It is a great time. Being out in the woods and the anticipation of the upcoming season brings out the snowmobiling spirit. Because of the large number of volunteers, most of the work is completed in the morning. This year there was no traditional evening pizza party, again, because of pandemic precautions.
Of course, there are many types of terrain across the state, and clubs have different ways of preparing the trails. In farmland regions, clubs wait for the crops to be harvested, then fields need leveling. Clubs that have county, state, or Federal lands will work with those officials to determine how to proceed.
Once the club or county determines the trail is ready for snowmobiles, and there is sufficient snow, a state trail inspector must review the trail first-hand so that it meets state, insurance, and safety standards. After a successful trail inspection, the county or club in charge of that trail decides when to open it for snowmobile traffic.
So, Bronwyn, that is how trail brushing fits into the snowmobile trail program. There are more than 25,000 miles of trails in the state trail system and thousands more local miles managed by area clubs. And this is all accomplished by volunteers. Not state-paid workers. Club volunteers. It is essential for the future of Wisconsin snowmobiling that every snowmobiler belong to a club. Join one today!