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
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
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.