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Snowmobile enthusiasts abuzz after snowfall

A sound that's become nearly foreign - and forgotten - was heard on area trails this weekend.

Snowmobiles roared to life, the white stuff sending groomers out to ready trails for travel.

The trails are in good shape, Lou Eischens of the Forest Riders said Monday, although the Department of Natural Resources was urging caution on lakes.

Husband Tim Eischens was aboard the groomer, the club sending two machines out to maintain 300 miles of trails.

"Riders were happy to fire up," she said. "A lot of women were kicking their husbands out" to ride merrily through the snow.

Karl Dierkhising of the Nevis Trailblazers was aboard the groomer Sunday, finding the "dry, fluffy snow" in need of a bit of packing.

"It's white; we don't care," he said, noting grooming before Christmas is the exception, not the rule of late.

Last year, snowmobilers had to wait until February before Mother Nature released some of her winter bounty - and snowmobilers headed out in number.

"They weren't chomping at the bit like last year," Dierkhising said of the numbers on the trails.

And customers weren't making a mad dash in to purchase sleds.

"We're selling snowmobiles, but it's been slow," said Dennis Dodge at Park Rapids Outdoor Power. Customers are taking a pragmatic approach to the snowfall; four-wheelers with plows are heading out the door.

"I think we're going to need three or four years of good snow" before snowmobiles become a hot ticket item, he said.

Charlie Kellner agreed.

"It's created some interest," said the owner of Charlie's Boats and Marine, "but we haven't set the world on fire.

"It's a buyer's market," he noted of price reductions on non-current models, sale of sleds in a slump the past few years. "With dealer and factory incentives, it's a good time to buy a sled."

And finding the way through the woods has just gotten easier, as well.

The Nevis Trailblazers were out this fall to place trail maps and information signs at intersections within the area Trailblazers groom.

Also, a few sections of the Wilder South trail by Huntersville and south of Highway 87 have been relocated.

"The signing project was something that was long overdue," Dierkhising said.

Visitors and locals alike easily became disoriented in the Paul Bunyan State Forest - until now.

The maps have a "you are here" arrow indicating where riders are on the trail system, with directional arrows and mileage numbers to area towns.

The signing project costs were just shy of $3,000. Funding sources included an Itasca-Mantrap Operation Round Up grant, trail sponsors, donations and club fundraising.

"This is the first phase of the project," he said, "with a rest area and information center planned next fall at the intersection of Wilder North and South and the Heartland State Trail, just east of Nevis."

The stop will include a large map of the trail system, guidelines on safety, a list of trail sponsors and other information.

The Trailblazers will no longer be grooming the Akeley trestle. It's been determined the weight of the groomer makes travel on the trestle unsafe, Dierkhising said.

Signs will be posted to notify riders of the ungroomed four-tenths of a mile. The bridge is considered safe for snowmobile travel.

"Slowly we are trying to move all the trails that run on shoulders of county and township roads to the woods or on the edge of fields or ditches," Dierkhising said. "It takes cooperation on the part of landowners and respect of the users to make this happen. There are also expenses and a lot of volunteer hours, so this progresses a little each year."

Trail pass dollars, initiated a few years ago at the behest of snowmobile clubs, will help, he said. One hundred percent of the amount collected is returned to clubs for maintenance.

"License fees alone were not keeping up with costs," Dierkhising said.