Northern Wilds Magazine
Snowmobilers on the Grand Portage trail overlooking Teal Lake.
Snowmobilers on the Grand Portage trail overlooking Teal Lake. | MARYANN GAGNON
Along the Shore

Building snowmobile trails and friendships

From Two Harbors to Grand Portage, there are amazing snowmobile trails on the North Shore with scenic overlooks, solid bridges and sturdy shelters. There are miles of well-groomed and well-signed trails for local riders and visitors to enjoy. But none of that would exist were it not for the hard-working volunteers of the many snowmobile clubs that built and maintain those routes.

Most of the area snowmobile clubs formed in the 1970s and 1980s by hardy residents who wanted to go snowmobiling, but needed trails. The Voyageur Snowmobile Club of Two Harbors, for instance, started in 1970 as an informal organization mainly just to ride.

The Voyageur Snowmobile Club became a nonprofit in the late 1980s. The first board members were Dale Moe, president; Warren Miller, vice-president; Rick Mickelson, secretary/treasurer. They are fondly recalled by today’s members for their work to become part of the Minnesota DNR grant-in-aid trail program, which brought funding to the volunteers maintaining those trails.

Being in the grant-in-aid program helped the Voyageur Snowmobile Club eventually obtain a Tucker Sno-Cat groomer, greatly welcomed by riders. A club member remembers that those early rides were like “surfing waves of sweeping moguls.”

The Voyageur Club now officially maintains about 92 miles of trails and has several groomers, two brush cutters and has built two memorial shelters and a club facility. They rebuilt three bridges destroyed in the flooding of 2012. And the majority of the maintenance is still done by volunteers.

When current president Dean Thompson was asked why he continues to be involved with the club, he simply said, “Someone has to do it.”

“When the chips are down, our club members come together with a lot of help with labor and resources,” Thompson added.

Another club, on the west end of Cook County, the Lutsen Trail Breakers, was formed in 1983. Like the Voyageur Club, it was started by people who just loved to ride. Many of those folks are recognized and remembered on the 52½ miles of trails in the Lutsen system.

There is the shelter at the top of White Sky Rock on the Caribou Trail, overlooking Caribou Lake, which is named after long-time treasurer Bob Wedell. There is also the Evjen Overlook on Beaver Trail, on the first ridgeline just west of Cascade State Park. The overlook bears the name of long time trail groomer Jerry Evjen and offers an amazing view of Lake Superior and toward Pike Lake.

Current trail administrator Larry McNeally also gives credit to longtime members Mike and Lynn Rose, and Shirley Lindgren—and current Trail Breakers secretary Sharon Hexum-Platzer, whose parents were founding members of the club, Bob and Sophie Muhlberg.

One of the most scenic spots on the Lutsen trails is the evergreen-lined Bob Muhlberg Trail.

It takes a lot of work to maintain the Lutsen trails. The club pays a groomer operator in the winter, but McNeally says there is a core group of about 10 people always working on brushing and clearing. McNeally adds that the club could really use some younger members to help out.

Because it is so much work, why does McNeally keep doing it? He explains, “It’s a lot of work, but I like being able to snowmobile and someone has to do it. I enjoy snowmobiling and I do it for the future generation.”

The northernmost Minnesota club on the North Shore is the Grand Portage Trail Riders and they, too, formed in the 1980s. The original board members were Dick Hoaglund, president; Mickey Spry, vice-president; Melvin “Bun” Gagnon, secretary/treasurer.

Mary Ann Gagnon was involved at the beginning and she is now the secretary/treasurer. Asked if those original board members are still active, Gagnon says only “Bun” Gagnon is still active. She said he helps out whenever he is needed.

She laughs, “The others are all snowbirds now!”

Gagnon recalls the hard work getting the club started, including early fundraisers. “When we first set up the club and bylaws, we had no money. We sold pull tabs and had bingo. We made a lot of money and were able to buy a double track snowmobile. We groomed with that—all of the members did the work.”

The snowmobile trails were a bit rough back then, but still enjoyable. However, Gagnon said trail groomer Bob Vogel now keeps the Grand Portage trails in great condition, with the help of community volunteers.

It’s a lot of work, so why does Gagnon stay involved? “I enjoy it, it’s kind of a stress reliever,” she said. “Our scenery up here—it’s the best in Cook County.”

Trail administrator Tony Swader agrees. “I enjoy it,” he said, “I enjoy the time you spend out there with the group riding and when you stop—it’s quiet, especially under the stars. Sometimes you see northern lights. At times like that you just stand and stare at the sky.”

For all of the snowmobilers, the time with friends and family—whether doing paperwork, clearing snowmobile trails, or riding—is what’s important.

Gagnon perhaps sums it up best. It’s the friendship that keeps her involved.

“We’re not a really fast moving group. We have curvy trails. I ride in the back and you can see the line of headlights and taillights ahead, just through the trees. You can see your friends ahead of you,” she says.

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