Published December 13, 2009, 12:00 AM

Miles of trails await N.D. snowmobilers

Riding a drought of snowfall in recent years, with the exception of last year, if snow continues, the air could soon be filled with audible engine whirring and track-painted ditches. While many North Dakotans travel to South Dakota for snowmobiling adventures, North Dakota has about 3,400 miles of snowmobile trails.

By: Lisa Call , The Dickinson Press

DICKINSON, N.D. — Riding a drought of snowfall in recent years, with the exception of last year, if snow continues, the air could soon be filled with audible engine whirring and track-painted ditches.

While many 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 composed of snowmobile clubs, individuals, families and businesses, said snowmobile trails opened 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, but land must be posted as such.

Role of volunteers

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.

Registration funds

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-rights-of-way, on section lines and county roads, Wanner said.

Capt. Tony Huck of the North Dakota Highway Patrol said snowmobiles are allowed only 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.”

Hopes for snow

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 because of 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.

The Press and the Herald arre both owned by Forum Communications Co.

Tags: