Up & running; Area residents love to snowmobile
Once a snowstorm falls, most people dread the sight because, along with the cold weather, traveling in an automobile sometimes becomes often unbearable or even not advised.
However, for the winter lover, seeing a snowstorm means the opportunity to do one of their favorite things-ride a snowmobile.
"I had twice as many miles on my snowmobile than I did on my motorcycle last year," said Ellsworth native Wally Hines, who has ridden snowmobiles for years.
Hines, along with brothers Al and Joe, are members of the Rush River Trail Riders Club, located east of Ellsworth.
"We love going out to different places and seeing the scenery," Wally continued as the three said that, on a good year, they ride between 2,500-3,000 miles and an average year gets them about 1,000 miles.
Exploring different areas has been one of the biggest changes the three have seen during their years.
"Back in the 1970s, it used to take us a day to go from Ellsworth to River Falls," Al said. Now, Wally said, they can get to Hurley, located near the Upper Peninsula border, in about a day.
"The State of Wisconsin is beginning to bring trails together from county to county," Wally added.
That's partly due to a group of unheralded people.
"The bottom line is that, if it wasn't for landowners or farmers, we wouldn't be here," Wally said their generosity over the years has allowed the industry to grow.
Another change has been equipment. The three remembered when they first started; it used to be everyone rode in two-seaters. Now, a one-seat is the standard ride.
Clothing has also undergone changes. Both Al and Joe mentioned they never used to have helmets or scarves when they rode.
"In the 1970s, we used to work on them more than we rode 'em," Al said. "Now, there's little maintenance and you just go."
And they've gone all over, which has included International Falls, Minn., Copper Harbor, Mich., and Yellowstone.
"About 15 to 20 years ago, it was -45 below at International Falls and we still rode home," Al said. "Sometimes we used to travel with no destination and go with what we carried with."
Despite all the different places to travel and seek, Wally said, they like to stay local.
"I believe the State of Wisconsin is the best to tour," he said. "That's half the fun."
And the fun, they said, starts by joining a club. It's estimated that, out of the 2,700 snowmobilers in Pierce County, only 300 are members of a club.
"We've been doing it for years," Wally said about belonging to a club. "...This is something you have to hand down to your kids. If they don't know the responsibilities, this sport will die."
Al stated that, as members of a club, they groom the trail and put the signs out, notifying other riders the trails are safe to ride.
"People expect to ride once the snow comes," he said. "The preparation is year long to make it work."
That's only part of their work that goes unappreciated, he believes.
"We're already donating the labor and the money comes out of our own pockets," he said. "A lot of people have put their time and effort into it and I don't think very many people realize it.
"It's not what a snowmobile council can do for you; it's what you can do for the snowmobile council."
He also stated, with the tourism that comes into Pierce County via snowmobiles, support should come from the county.
"With the money we bring in for tourism, it goes unrecognized by the county," he added. "We used to be involved with the county, but not anymore."
To ride a snowmobile in Wisconsin, one has to be at least 12-years-old or born on or after Jan. 1, 1985. They need a valid safety certificate to ride on any public lands or trails in the state.