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Snowmobilers took advantage of a sunny but cold winter day last week to participate in their sport. The trails in Pierce County opened the middle of last month and it appeared they’ll be able to ride for quite a while to come. (Herald photo by Bill Kirk)

Snow abundance means riders need to reemphasize safety

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Since the middle of last month, snowmobilers have been out in force around Pierce County with no end in sight.

Until recently, most snowfalls to date had been small, but continuous cold weather helped to preserve them plus the couple of bigger dumps, creating a significant amount of white on the ground.

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“It wasn’t out of the norm to see 50 snowmobiles in one place at the start,” Pierce County Snowmobile Association President Mark Engnes said Friday, referring to activity once the trails opened in mid-January.

None of the snow has come with a lot of moisture, so it’s been harder to pack, Engnes said. He described it as “sugary,” a reason officials hesitated about the trails’ opening, at first.

Experiencing a series of storms dropping two-to-three inches at a time, the association did a lot of early grooming, he said. Numerous chisel-plowed fields were knocked down.

Four groomers are still being run and have been at least once weekly, aside from during bitter cold spells, he said. Only one of the groomers—three are owned and the other is by arrangement with a Spring Valley resident--has posed some difficulties; outfitted with tires and chains, it’s been stuck where the snow has been up to its hood.

Eventually achieving a hard riding surface has been promoted by the brutal cold periods, the president agreed.

“The trail freezes up just like a highway,” he said, optimistic conditions for the sport will be good into the future, as the long-range forecast is for colder-than-normal weather.

There are points where the groomers aren’t totally effective, according to Engnes. Particularly at stop signs, snowmobilers should watch for cross traffic carefully and wait before proceeding. Snow tends to get piled high at these spots (he estimated some banks reach up five-to-six feet), necessitated as part of clearing the cross roads.

“It’s hard to get the groomers through,” he said. He also appealed to the riding public to be patient with grooming operations when the snow’s drifting.

The availability of groomer operators hasn’t posed a problem in the last four-to-five years, he said, after club members were recruited to drive and the job was “spread around.”

Although association officials haven’t heard many complaints this year, they remind snowmobilers about staying on the trails and riding between the orange blazers, the president said. This is out of respect for the landowners without whom the entire 222-mile trail system could fall apart. He was aware a $263.50 fine can be assessed to violators, technically a citation for trespassing.

For more please read the Feb. 5 print version of the Herald. 

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Bill Kirk
Bill Kirk has been editor at the Pierce County Herald in Ellsworth, Wisconsin, since 1988. He holds a bachelors degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. He previously worked in the media distribution department at the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus and is past editor of The Tri-County News in Osseo, Wisconsin.
(715) 273-4334
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