KSC looking for volunteers to help with grooming

(Skip Schulz/For the Gazette) The Keweenaw Snowmobile Club grooms the most miles of states of any club in the state of Michigan. However the future of the club, and snowmobiling in the Keweenaw rests on the club garnering the support of area businesses.

The sport of snowmobiling has evolved since it’s heydays in the 60s. While the manufacturer numbers have gone from close to 100 to only four, its economic impact is well over a million dollars in the Keweenaw every winter.

Another big change in the area has come from who and how the trails are maintained and groomed. The Keweenaw Snowmobile Club has taken over grooming over 35,000 miles of trails every winter.

As stated in a previous story, John Dee of the Keweenaw Snowmobile Club (KSC) explained that, “with growing popularity of riding in the Keweenaw, the grant sponsor needed to be upgraded from a single individual working with a handful of operators to a program with more man-power, resources and more organized structure.”

The snowmobile-building companies have made drastic improvements to their sleds. From the day when snowmobiles were 18 to over 40 horsepower (HP), they now have machines well over 100 HP. They have also changed from having tracks encompassing 121 inches on the ground and small ½-inch lugs, to tracks that average between 144 inches on the ground and at least 1-inch lugs. 

In the Keweenaw, where snow is often measured in feet, as opposed to inches, many snowmobilers have purchased what the industry calls “mountain sleds.” These sleds have over 155 inches and 2-inch lugs.

“The increased HP and lug length both ‘chew’ up the trail much more than the sleds of 20 years ago,” said Dee. “Thus, grooming of the trails has to occur much more frequently.”

The change in the snowmobiles has created even more reliance on the KSC.

“I believe the average snowmobiler has little clue as to the amount of work that goes into providing the trails to ride on and the grooming of the trails to offer a smooth ride,” Dee said. “This is not a slam against the average snowmobiler, I was in the very same boat before I joined the club. What is not observed is all the behind-the-scene work that goes on.

“Each machine needs to be lubricated and inspected before going out for its job for the day. These machines are asked to do so much, in such harsh conditions that breakdowns happen frequently.”

Dee said that sometimes the breakdowns happen in a manner in which the machine can be nursed back to the barn, other times it requires a rescue and tow home. There are times when the breakdown is dozens of miles from any form of civilization, even the nearest road. Many times, the breakdown will happen on a cold winter’s night, with temps near zero and sometimes with a full blizzard underway.

“The rescue is just the start of the work,” said Dee. “Once back into the barn, the machine needs to be taken apart enough to get to the problem. Parts then need to be ordered and once the replacement parts are in hand, the machine needs to be put back together.”

That is the mechanical side of things. Other behind-the-scene examples are that the club needs in obtaining easements and issue insurance for every private landowner that the KSC trail goes across.

“In our case, that means 100’s of landowners, each season,” Dee said. “There are many other administrative duties that have to happen to allow the trails to be open. The state has some form of paperwork for just about anything that we do. It is a good idea, to ensure that no one abuses the states snowmobile program, but creates a ton of work.”

Last year, an international snowmobile trade magazine listed the Keweenaw as one of the top areas to ride in all of North America. While the area has become a prime destination for snowmobilers, and that has a huge economic impact, its future rests on the shoulders of the KSC and area snowmobile clubs.

“One thing I would like to talk about is the fragile state of snowmobiling in our area and the importance of our local businesses in supporting our club. Every season we produce a two-sided snowmobile map,” said Dee. “One side of the map has our trail system on it, the other side is dedicated to local businesses that advertise and thus financially support our efforts. This season, we could not find enough businesses willing to advertise to fill all of the slots on the back side of the map. This disappoints me.

“Our board is made up of volunteers. In addition to running the business side of the club, we plan, set-up and run all of our fundraising activities. We all volunteer because we understand the importance of snowmobiling to our local economy. Yet, there are a number of businesses that directly profit from the snowmobile program that do not support our club financially.”

Dee states that in many cases, he believes it is just a simple misunderstanding on how the club runs financially.

“They have no idea that each season we are in dire straits financially,” he said. “So I would like to take the opportunity to further explain how things work: The state picks up the cost of purchasing the quarter-million-dollar groomers. They also pick up the price of any major repairs that are $1,000 or more. The club needs to cover the cost of all other expenses.”

Dee says expenses such as repairs under $1,000, which two years ago, added up to more than $75,000 for the club.

“Fuel additives, lubrication, tools, building costs, utilities, office expenses…These are just a few items in our budget, there are too many more to list in this story,” he said. “The bottom line is that we need lots more financial support from the area businesses, as well as locals and visitors that use the system. 

“If our club were to cease its existence, the DNR would not step in to run the trails and the region would be hard-pressed to find anyone or any organization to do what we do with our current revenue sources. So, I hope that area businesses owners this will step up and help us.”

Donations can be sent to the club at: PO Box 87, Calumet MI, 49913.

“Let us know that you would like to place an ad in next seasons map,” said Dee. “Each year, the club struggles to make ends meet, and although it seems impossible that there would be no snowmobiling in the Keweenaw, each year we are close to that very reality.”