Soon snowmobilers will be out and aboutUntil last winter, southwest North Dakota hadn’t seen conditions favorable to snowmobilers and if snow falls continue, the air could soon be filled with audible engine whirring and track-painted ditches.
By: Lisa Call, The Dickinson Press
Until last winter, southwest North Dakota hadn’t seen conditions favorable to snowmobilers and if snow falls continue, the air could soon be filled with audible engine whirring and track-painted ditches.
While numerous North Dakotans travel to South Dakota for snowmobiling adventures, North Dakota has about 3,400 miles of snowmobile trails.
Keri Wanner, program manager for Snowmobile North Dakota, an organization comprised of snowmobile clubs, individuals, families and businesses, said snowmobile trails open Dec. 1, but must first meet certain requirements.
All trail preparation must be completed, including sign installation, tree and shrub trimming as well as meeting snow requirements.
“There needs to be a minimum 4-inch base of snow which means 4 inches of compacted snow,” Wanner said. “It’s just a little added protection for us to go out and enjoy the trails.”
Wanner said the minimum is to protect landowners as well.
“We do have a considerable amount of leases throughout the state,” she said. “We run a lot of private property. We also have leases with state property.”
While the area’s sprawling open fields could be a snowmobiler’s dream, not all can be legally ridden.
Capt. Lawrence Kitzman of the Stark County Sheriff’s Department, said it is illegal for snowmobilers to ride through land that is posted no trespassing, however land must be posted as so.
Snowmobile North Dakota is designed around volunteers, counting on them to post signs and clear shrubbery.
“The volunteers are what dictate where the trails are going to be at in the state,” Wanner said. “ … But the catch is without those volunteers that go out and set up the trails … we wouldn’t be able to have the huge system that we do.”
They come to us with the interest of starting a trail system or wanting to make trail changes and then we work with them to make sure there is adequate funding, signage, equipment … so that they can go out and maintain that trail,” Wanner said.
Wanner said the Dickinson area used to have a trail system, but it ceased a couple of years ago.
“I think with the lack of snow over the last few years, the membership really disbanded and there was a lack of interest and the same volunteers were doing the work,” Wanner said.
With about six members, the Little Missouri Snowmobile & ATV Club based in Dickinson is staying active in public service.
“The club is still here,” said Kevin Berger, the club’s treasurer. “We just didn’t have enough snow and stuff for so many years to go through all the work of signing the trails.”
A few years ago during a time of heavy, heavy snow, the club ran errands and gave rides.
“We ran for like a day and a half,” Berger said. “We started in the afternoon, ran through the night and part of the next day until like noon,” Berger said, adding the group was hauling nurses and doctors to the hospital, nursing homes and giving people rides home who had been at work for quite some time due to the weather.
Berger said if the police or sheriff’s departments need snowmobiles during the winter time, the club helps out.
Funded by state and federal dollars, snowmobile registrations dictate the major source for trail upkeep.
Any snowmobile being ridden on state and public land requires registration.
Snowmobile registrations are $40 for two years and $35 of that money goes back to the state snowmobile trail program to operate trails, Wanner said.
“There is a portion of gas tax funds that do come in to the state snowmobile fund and that’s all based off our registration numbers,” Wanner said.
In order to efficiently manage existing trails, SND’s board of directors is not looking to add new trails at the present time.
Trails also are sometimes formed in highway-right-of-ways, on section lines and county roads, Wanner said.
Capt. Tony Huck of the North Dakota Highway Patrol said snowmobiles are only allowed in highway ditches and crossing or riding ditches near interstates is prohibited.
“The only way you can get on and off the interstate is by the on and off ramps and they can’t go on and off there,” Huck said. “If there are roads going over or under the interstate system you can cross there.”
Last year’s excessive snowfall may have given new hope to snowmobilers.
“I just bought snowmobiles again this spring,” said Dickinson resident Kim Olheiser, who has been snowmobiling on and off for 15 years. “We haven’t had them for the last two years,” adding he sold his previous snowmobiles due to the lack of snow.
Olheiser said he and his family generally travel to South Dakota, into the Big Horn mountains and will also ride ditches in the area when snow is available.
Thanks to a joint effort between Snowmobile North Dakota and the North Dakota Motor Vehicle Department, snowmobile trails have now been placed on an interactive map on North Dakota’s Geographic Information System hub and a link can be found at http://www.parkrec.nd.gov/recreation/snowmobile.
The latest trail conditions and snowmobile guidelines can be found at www.snowmobilend.org.
Those interested in joining the Little Missouri Snowmobile & ATV Club can contact Berger at 701-227-1407