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‘It’s just an unbelievable sport’

Freeborn County has over 275 miles of snowmobile trails

Saturday marks the midpoint of Snowmobile Safety Week, arriving just in time for a decent amount of snowfall predicted for the area this weekend.

Steve Guenthner, president of the Freeborn County Snowmobile Trail Association, said the group has been hard at work getting the local trails ready for snowmobilers this year.

The Freeborn County Snowmobile Trail Association grooms and maintains over 275 miles worth of trails in the county, including Myre-Big Island State Park. Guenthner said he has put in more than 200 hours of volunteer work getting the trails ready and groomed this season, starting long before the first snowfall.

According to Guenthner, work on the trails starts as soon as the farmers are out of the fields. The association gets to work flattening tillage and plowing left behind by farmers, as well as clearing rocks and tree limbs from the path.

Of the 275 miles of trails, Guenthner said over 90% is on farming property. He said for each farmer’s property the trails go through, the association must get written approval from the farmer, which also absolves them of any liability for accidents on their land. According to Guenther, the trails run through more than 600 farmers’ properties.

The Freeborn County Snowmobile Trails Association prepares and maintains over 275 miles of snowmobile trails in the county, including Myre-Big Island State Park. Hallie Cantu/Albert Lea Tribune

Connecting with other counties’ trails, Guenthner said as long as there’s enough snow, people can get on a trail and go for miles in any direction. He said he has taken a trip all the way to International Falls and back on all snowmobile trails.

The Freeborn County Snowmobile Trail Association has about $500,000 in equipment to care for and groom the trails. All the equipment is stored strategically throughout the county, allowing groomers to get out on the trails as soon as the snow falls.

The trail association is supported by the Minnesota Grant-in-Aid Program, which awards payments based on the number of miles in the county, paid by the trails division of the Department of Natural Resources. The majority of funding comes from the registration of snowmobiles in the county. The registration fee also allows riders access to the Grant-in-Aid trails. The trails are only accessible to snowmobilers — no ATVs, side-by-sides, bikes or any other type of transportation are allowed on the trails. 

On top of preparing and maintaining trails, the association offers a safety training course. Anyone born after 1976 has to pass a safety test to legally ride a snowmobile in the state. Adults and children alike are required to read the study materials and take the online quizzes before they are allowed to take the safety course. Normally, the association offers the course the first week in December, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, they were not able to offer the course in 2020.

Guenthner encouraged anyone who hasn’t registered their snowmobile to get out and do so and enjoy the trails Freeborn County has to offer.

“Get out and enjoy the sport,” Guenthner said. “Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, I’ve been out to the mountains 30 times. It’s just an unbelievable sport, what you see and the pictures you can get. It’s also a nice family sport. There’s a million places to go. Get out and explore what the area has to offer.”

Membership into the Freeborn County Trail Association is $30 — $25 of which goes towards a MNUSA membership, the state snowmobile organization. The association meets the first Thursday of every month. Anyone interested in joining the club is encouraged to reach out to the Freeborn County Trail Association on Facebook.

About Tyler Julson

Tyler Julson covers sports for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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