Washington County club maintains snowmobile trailsFrom north to south there are more than 180 miles of marked, groomed snowmobile trails in Washington County. The most well-known is the Star Trail.
By: Andy Blenkush, South Washington County Bulletin
From north to south there are more than 180 miles of marked, groomed snowmobile trails in Washington County. The most well-known is the Star Trail.
Snowmobile enthusiasts can travel from Cottage Grove to Forest Lake and beyond, thanks to the hard work and dedication of the Washington County Star Trail Association and 10 individual snowmobile clubs scattered throughout the county.
The Washington County Star Trail Association is an organization that governs the clubs within Washington County. The clubs and the Star Trail Association are volunteer-run organizations.
The work done by these groups is easily noticed as people flock to Washington County for wide-open spaces and trail systems to snowmobile on.
An common misconception is that the trails are maintained by Washington County but that is not the case, according to Bruce Nelson, the trail coordinator of the Star Trail Association.
“The trail is maintained by the individual clubs and the volunteers who belong to them,” Nelson said. “One of the problems we have is people see Washington County Star Trail and they tend to think the county is taking care of everything. They think they don’t have to get involved.”
Washington County’s only involvement is acting as a middleman between the Star Trail Association and the State of Minnesota, where the association draws funds from the Department of Natural Resources.
Each October, club members begin to mark the trails, making each trail identifiable by Dec. 1. After the snowmobile season starts, five individuals take on the task of grooming the trails after each snowfall.
Each of the five volunteer trail groomers stores and maintains the trail grooming equipment. The trail grooming equipment costs more that $50,000 apiece for used machinery. The Star Trail Association has always gone bargain shopping when it comes to purchasing the equipment. The newest machine is a 1995 model.
Irv Kopren, 69, has been grooming the trails since the Star Trail Association’s induction in the late 1960s. Since that time, he has logged thousands of hours operating snow grooming machinery, as well as fixing it. Unlike most other volunteer trail groomers, Kopren is retired. This only frees more time for grooming, as Kopren said he spends more time grooming the trails than riding snowmobiles on them.
The used equipment is known to break down, according to Kopren, who added that it seems to do so when conditions for grooming are at their best – well below frigid.
“It seems like it’s always then, and that’s the best time to be grooming,” Kopren said. “The cold weather, the snow sets up nice and level. Once it’s groomed it’s just like a highway.”
A need for snowmobile clubs came decades ago when snowmobile enthusiasts met at a library in Newport and decided that rather than having each rider seek permission to ride on private property on an individual basis, they would be better served to do so as a club. The result is, if a person is a club member, they automatically have permission to ride on club-maintained trails that cross private property.
Complaints from landowners who have given permission to ride across their land are minimal. Members of the snowmobile clubs understand and follow the rules and etiquette of trail riding.
“We get a few complaints about the snowmobiles and the trails,” Nelson said. “But without the trail, people would just go helter-skelter anywhere. We really do keep people in control most of the time.”
A majority of complaint calls fielded by the Star Trail Association are from people who do not live on designated snowmobile trails. These complaints come from Washington County residents who have snowmobiles running through their yards without permission, occasionally damaging small trees, mailboxes or other items on the private property.
Although the Star Trail Association has no jurisdiction over non-members who are not riding on designated trails, they do their best to smooth over the situation to promote peace between riders and non-riders. The association often goes as far as paying for the damage caused by riders not affiliated with them.
“Our goal as the Star Trail is to promote and preserve snowmobiling, as well as making sure it’s safe and controlled,” Nelson said.
The Star Trail Association and county-wide snowmobile clubs are run by the people for the people. This year about 1,000 residents are members of local clubs. They pay less than $10 each year for a fee to belong to the club. According to Nelson, dues are kept low to help keep member numbers up.
“It really ain’t the county that takes care of this,” Nelson said. “It’s the [Washington County Star Trail Association] and it’s the volunteers. If we don’t have anyone getting involved, we won’t have trails.”