Snowmobilers hope law adds members
SHARON — Snowmobile riders have been looking to the sky hoping for snow during an unseasonably warm December.
But when the snow comes, snowmobile clubs anticipate a new law will help increase membership and promote snowmobiling in general.
A provision in the Wisconsin budget signed in July requires snowmobilers to purchase a pass before riding on their favorite trails.
Trail passes cost $30, however, club members who are part of the Association of Wisconsin Snowmobilers Clubs pay only $10.
The discount also applies to nonresidents who join a Wisconsin club. Nonresidents who are not members are required to pay $50 for a pass if their snowmobile is not registered with the state and $30 if it is registered.
Trail passes can be purchased online from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources at http://dnr.wi.gov/permits/snowtrailpass.htm.
For a list of agents, go to http://dnr.wi.gov/Permits/CSRSP/LicenseAgents.aspx.
For more information, call 608-846-5530 or 800-232-4108. Passes are not required for antique snowmobiles.
William Dawson, trail boss for the Sharon Drift Skippers, said even though the $10 passes will increase membership, his hope is that they also will bring in additional members to volunteer to help maintain the trails.
The club maintains a large network of trails in Walworth County, Clinton, Roscoe and Rockton.
“I have a mixed idea about it. It helps in getting members, but most might join just to get a discount on the pass,” Dawson said. “We don't seem to have more volunteers to put in the trails. (The pass) was to promote the clubs and to put the trails in.”
Tom Moran, trail boss for the Darien Sunset Riders, said the passes will provide additional revenue to maintain snowmobile trails.
“I think it's a good idea. A lot of clubs need the help,” Moran said. “People get a discount on their pass if they join a snowmobile club. The money goes into supporting the sport and maintaining the trails.”
Don Bongle, president of the Milton Snow Riders, said the discounted trail passes will encourage more people to join his club.
“(Membership) has stayed steady since the 1990s,” Bongle said. “It has stayed around 25 family members. I think (membership) will increase significantly this year with the new trail passes.”
Bongle said even if people don't become a member of the Milton Snow Riders, there's several other snowmobile clubs in the area for people to join.
“We look forward to seeing more people enjoying snowmobiling and joining our club,” Bongle said. “If they don't join our club, there's other snowmobile clubs in Rock County they can join. The benefit is doing something you enjoy.”
Jason Manogue, president of the Northern Rock County SC and Youth Riders, said the discounted passes will benefit his club and other clubs in the state.
“(The state) is trying to promote joining snowmobile clubs,” Manogue said. “(The pass) is $30 for an individual, but if you join a club the pass is $10. Snowmobiling is like a roller coaster. Some years it's slow and some years it's growing.”
Sandy Tiffany of the Clinton Fencehoppers said the club already has seen an increase in membership due to the passes, but she cautions people to contact the AWSC to make sure the trails are open before they hop on their favorite winter vehicle.
“The biggest problem is people want to get out on the trails at the first hint of snow. They can get a ticket if the trail is not open, plus it ruins the trail before we can get out ...” Tiffany said. “When we do get snow, it will be important for people to call (the AWSC) — that way they will know if the trails are open or not.”
Despite the lack of snow so far this winter, local snowmobile clubs are trying to remain active.
• The Milton Snow Riders maintain about 26 miles of trails from Milton to Walworth County. Several members also conduct training and safety classes. The group meets the second Tuesday of the month at Fredericks Supper Club in Milton.
Bongle said he and his fellow club members hope to see some snow soon, so they can go out and enjoy the trails.
“We're all kind of bummed (because of the lack of snow),” Bongle said. “There's a lot of work in maintaining a trail, putting it in and taking it out. We're anxiously awaiting the cold weather and the snow. Mother Nature has not granted us that.”
• Northern Rock County SC and Youth Riders, established in 2014, is one of the newer snowmobile clubs in the area. Manogue said he and several other snowmobilers decided to start the club while talking about trail conditions. He said the group has attracted people of all ages.
“I opened my mouth and said, 'Maybe we should start (a snowmobile club),'” Manogue said. “In nine months, we went from eight members to 25 members. It kept growing from there.”
The group meets the first Sunday of the month to discuss snowmobile maintenance and safety.
“Safety is No. 1. We don't promote drinking and riding. We discuss how to interact with landowners. There's about 600 clubs in Wisconsin. There's about 2,500 miles of trails put on by riders,” Manogue said. “We try to spark an interest in the sport of snowmobiling. We try to be a family. We try to keep it exciting and pray for snow.
“I predict in the middle of January, we will have good snow,” Manogue said. “There's also grass drag racing. It's more than just snow. We can get grass riders. People modify their snowmobiles to race on asphalt. We've talked about modifying one of our snowmobiles for drag racing on ice.”
• The Sharon Drift Skippers host fundraisers for scholarships and a youth softball team. They also donate turkeys to a local food pantry. The group meets the second Thursday of the month.
“(The lack of snow) has been a real challenge. We don't have all the trails in yet,” Dawson said. “Usually, we have all the trails in after Thanksgiving. It's been so wet that we haven't been able to put them all in yet. We have about five miles of trails that we haven't put in yet.”
Dawson said besides snowmobiling the group enjoys other activities.
“Most of our members are campers,” Dawson said. “We go year-round, and we go camping in the summer.”
• The Clinton Fencehoppers spend several months preparing trails for the upcoming snowmobile season.
“We go to the property owners and see if we can put a trail on their land. Most of the trails go across private properties and fields,” Tiffany said. “In the fall, we start to go out and put up signs for the trails.”
The Fencehoppers meet the second Wednesday of the month at the Snowmobile Maintenance Building located on County Highway X near Clinton. The group is preparing for its annual vintage snowmobile ride, which is scheduled for Feb. 6.
“Vintage rides are becoming popular with snowmobile clubs,” Tiffany said. “Vintage snowmobiles are generally 30 years or older. Sometimes (the vintage ride) goes to Sharon and back, and sometimes it goes to Shopiere and back. It's usually about 30 miles.”
The Clinton Fencehoppers has about 60 members. Tiffany said the group attracts people of all ages, and some people have been members for many years.
“We have some members who have been involved with the club for a long time and their children and their families are involved,” Tiffany said. “We have youth between the ages of 9 and 16 who are involved. The bulk of our members are in their mid-20s to their mid-50s.”
• The Darien Sunset Riders maintain about 18 miles of trails in the Darien area.
“People don't realize how much work goes into maintaining the trails,” Moran said. “Probably 200 to 300 hours is involved with maintaining our section of snowmobile trails. It's a privilege to have the trails. We are thankful to the landowners who give us permission to cross onto their property.”
The Sunset Riders meet monthly October through March and offer an annual club trip.
“In past years, we moved around the state (for our yearly trip),” Moran said.