Good winter has led to increased snowmobiling
An economic boom is noisily taking place throughout the region each weekend as dozens of snowmobilers flock to Hubbard County trails.
It doesn't rival the gold rush of a decade ago, but if Mother Nature cooperates and the economy slowly improves, local businesses are hopeful it will rebound.
This comes at a time when the U.S. Commerce Department announced weather affects one-third of the nation's economy. The prognostication followed back-to-back snowstorms that have swept the nation's midsection.
Last weekend a group of snowmobilers primarily from North Dakota came to Hubbard County and the surrounding region; the weekend before a dozen sleds from Karlstad zipped around the Itasca and Lake George areas.
"These trails are incredible," said Jay Larson of Fargo. "This is some of the best riding and trees in the state."
Larson was in a group of 11 men that spent three days on the trails.
"We figure we'll spend $300 apiece for the weekend," said Terry Waltz of Fargo, adding that was probably a conservative estimate.
The men put on 300 miles, traveling throughout Hubbard County, to Bemidji, to Becida, through Itasca and other spots.
"These are the best trails in the state," reiterated Ted Ingersoll of Fargo.
Some of the men are from Langdon, a North Dakota town near the Canadian border in the northeastern part of the state. They meet with a couple guys from Thief River Falls to annually to ride the Hubbard County trails.
"We dropped $200 in Walker yesterday just for lunch," Ingersoll said.
They pool their resources for food and beverages into a kitty, said Shawn Rampelberg of Fargo. They're not about to ask a waiter for separate checks, he said. Too gauche.
"Just the daily gas in our sleds runs $50 to $60," said Barry Hoffer of Thief River Falls.
The Fargoans come more often than yearly, sometimes several weekends during the season.
Hoffer said he and his wife often ride down here and travel through the Huntersville and Menahga regions, spending money in motels and at various eateries.
It's a "carpe diem" philosophy that fuels the desire to ride, many snowmobilers say.
The Karlstad group said while their area has been hit hard by the economy, they feel the need to get away. It rejuvenates them.
One snowmobiler last weekend said he and his wife skipped Cancun this year; another said the Mazatlan trip was too expensive. He'd rather spend some mini-vacations in the snow.
Temperatures in the 20s and fresh helpings of snow haven't hurt the turnout.
The Fargo-Langdon-Thief River group mostly works in the insurance business.
Ingersoll said they have not been as affected by the bad economy as other sectors have.
It's nevertheless therapeutic to "get away from the wife and kids," the men universally said. They return to work and home with tanned faces, albeit sporting goggle outlines across the cheeks, and a renewed spirit.
Todd Simison is a Detroit Lakes resident. Ironically, he's in the insurance salvage business, specifically snowmobile salvage.
He's been negatively affected by the recession because "people aren't buying and insuring new snowmobiles."
Simison praised the condition of the Hubbard County trails, saying Becker County had to close many of its trails after a recent ice storm left tree branches and "whole trees" on the paths.
"There's businesses down there really hurting because of those trails being closed," he said.
The group did find some branches on Hubbard trails, but said they weren't major obstacles.
Last Saturday Zhateau Zorbaz pizzeria north of Dorset was full of snowmobilers over the lunch hour.
The group headed by Waltz, the designated "party planner," was there too. They spent another $200 and left the bartender a healthy tip. They were headed to Nevis, where they planned on dropping another $150-$200 at the gas pumps.
Explore Minnesota and the snowmobiling manufacturers and associations estimate the industry has a $1 billion economic impact on the state and $56 million in state and local tax revenues, but many question those figures in light of the recession.
"Last weekend we didn't have that many but the weekend before we had about 60 (snowmobilers) in here," said Gary Plumley of Bullwinkle's in Nevis.
"Keep the snow coming."
The weekend visits to the region have a long way to go to reach the impact the industry had 10-15 years ago.
"It hasn't been too good the past 10 years, " said Super 8 owner Glen Goebel, adding, "fifteen years ago it was great. We were full every weekend."
But he's hoping continuous snowfall and good word of mouth will bring the crowds roaring back.