Photo by Deidre Kettunen
Thanks to a generous donation from the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB), this 1993 Tucker Snow-Cat stands ready to groom Lutsen's snowmobile trails. Another Snow-Cat was donated to the Tofte-Schroeder snowmobile club.

Good news for West End snowmobile trails

By Rhonda Silence
For many years, the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) has assisted communities with economic and recreational projects. One of those projects was the snowmobile grooming program. IRRRB provided snowmobile trail groomers and the maintenance for them. Facing declining revenue from taconite taxes, this year IRRRB decided to phase out the snowmobile grooming program. This is good - and bad news for the snowmobile clubs of Lutsen, Tofte and Schroeder.
The good news is that IRRRB realized the importance of snowmobile trails to the tourism industry and didn't want to create a hardship by abruptly ending the program. To ease the transition, each of the West End snowmobile clubs received a snowmobile groomer and grant funds for its maintenance, based on the miles of trails it oversees. Lutsen has approximately 67 miles of trails and Tofte-Schroeder has approximately 25.
The Lutsen Trail Breakers received a 1993 Tucker Snow-Cat worth $30,000 and a drag worth $4,000. IRRRB will also provide up to $42,000 for maintenance, which does not include fuel, driver's wages and insurance. "It's good and bad," said Lutsen Trail Administrator Brad Ludlow. "The good thing is that we're getting a groomer and funding. The bad thing is now we're liable for all of the upkeep."
The Tofte Timberwolves Sportsman's Club received a 1992 Tucker Snow-Cat worth $22,000 and a $4,000 drag. IRRRB will also provide up to $21,000 for maintenance. Timberwolves representative Paul James said the good news is that the West End now has two groomers for its snowmobile trails, instead of one.
However, he agreed that it would be a challenge to keep up with the maintenance. "We'll be putting money in money market or savings accounts, hoping to build up a groomer fund for eventual replacement of the machines."
James and Ludlow have many years of experience scrounging funds for the West End snowmobile trails. Both clubs receive Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) grant-in-aid money for trail maintenance, up to 65% of expenditures.
The two snowmobile club representatives turn to the West End community for help with the matching dollars. "Obviously local lodges have guests that use the trails," said James. "They appreciate our work on the trails and are willing to do their part."
"We really appreciate their interest in the community and our clubs - and the sport," said Ludlow.
The Lutsen-Tofte Tourism Association (LTTA) also contributed $4,000 to each club last year, another boost for the local trails. "The nice thing about that money is it can be used to match the DNR grant-in-aid funds," said James.
Financial support like that is more important than ever, said Ludlow. "The grant-in-aid will go as far as it can against expenses and then we're liable. We think we have a pretty good handle on fixed costs, but there are always surprises. It's going to be an interesting learning experience," he said.
There may be bumps ahead for the trail administrators, but for snowmobilers, the news is all good. With two groomers, West End trails will be better maintained than ever. Starting December 1, groomer-drivers Leo Shilts and Scott Trachta will be cruising in the Tucker Snow-Cats two to five times every week.

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