trail grooming

Chippewa Snow Chasers Getting Trails In Shape For Winter

By Stephen King

With the coming of fall, most sledders know that winter is just around the corner and their thoughts turn to riding. They go out to the garage and look at their ride sitting there, all tired and sleepy. Just resting. 

Some start to look for new toys. Maybe even a new sled. Or a new helmet. Or new boots. Or some new product to make their riding better.

However, there are a few riders out there who do a bit more. The Grooming Clubs. Or the Sponsor Clubs. The clubs that go out and groom the trails. Many years ago, the State of Michigan and the DNR pretty much got out of trail grooming.

They kind of “privatized” it. Namely, they got a bunch of clubs, about 64 now, to take over the grooming. The clubs range from those formed by local governments, such as area Chambers or similar entities. But some are just sledders who like to ride. Old-fashioned “riding clubs” that just took over grooming.

Now, when most riders actually think of them, it is in the winter when we meet a groomer on the trail. Or even more often, when the trail has issues and we need somebody to blame. 

trail grooming
Brushing Crew: Rex Hyrns, John Smith Sr, Rick Stevens, Dan Ficke, John Smith Jr, Paul Sutherland, Terri Abbo, Gene Ott, Dustin Mast, Chris Mullins, Mike Akin, Tracy Wyszynski, Ben Apps, Paul Ackerman, Diann Kokko, Ron Handley, Brett Weipert, Jim Steffen, Randy Reimer, Joe McQuesten, Jaci McQuesten, Troy Heingartner, Dan Heingartner, Brad Lowing. Missing from picture: Anita Ficke, Matt Stevens, & Chris Curless.

However, what we really need to do is to thank them. They spend countless hours out there grooming the trails. Many do it without pay. In this “me-first” age, many of these men and women still go out there for the love of the sport. If they do get paid, it is far less than union scale for an equipment operator — often about minimum wage.

Right now, while most sledders are still just dreaming of what they will do this winter, the grooming clubs are getting the trails ready. Most call this “brushing and signing.” I call it hard work.

They inspect every single mile of the about 6,000 miles that we have. They replace any old, missing or damaged signs. And they remove the brush from alongside the trails.

Think this one over. Those cute little trees they are removing could be slapping you upside the head every time you go down a trail. Try hitting a baseball-sized branch or tree at about 60 mph and see what happens. You will have a whole new appreciation for the people who do this every year.

Now, around the end of September, I hooked up with some old friends of mine who are members of the Chippewa Snow Chasers. They take care of the trails in western Chippewa County, centered around the Strong’s Corners area. From about Trout Lake over to Hulbert, then over to Raco and then north. All together they have about 100 miles of trails. Officially 99 miles.

trail grooming

Now, think this one over. One hundred miles of trails to remove the brush from, check signs and look for any problems. Just inspecting them is a job. Try idling along at about 25 mph for about 100 miles. And stopping every so often. It takes about a day just to drive it.

Then the actual “brushing and signing.” This year, Club President Rex Hyrns again organized the event. He asked for help from members of the Chippewa Snow Chasers. More than 20 people responded from all over Michigan and even a few from other states.

They came up in September and made a day of it. Rex broke them into four groups, and they hit the trails. Spent basically all day. On the end of chain saws. Operating the big farm tractors that the club uses to put drags to move brush. On the end of pole saws, cutting off branches that would otherwise droop onto the trail and become obstacles once covered in snow. Picking up and moving debris. A lot of hard, physical work.

trail grooming

These people worked very hard for one entire day. All volunteers. For no pay. Just knowing they did their part to help keep the trails in good shape. And for some camaraderie. Even though it was a lot of hard work, most acted like they were having a good time.

It’s not just the Chippewa Snow Chasers. All over the U.P. and, even down below, clubs are out there right now getting the trails ready for winter. 

So, when you see them, give them a big “thank you.” Also, if you are traveling and see a donation can or box, drop in a few coins. They always need the money.

Then, if you really want to help, get in touch with clubs and find out when they are doing their “trail clean up” and jump right in and help.

True, it will be a bit of hard work, but you will make a whole lot of new friends, have a very good time and come away with the “warm and fuzzy” feeling you get when you know you have done something worthwhile. 

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