Grand Marais—When Kevin Mackey moved to the North Shore, he had a mission.
“I joined the Ridge Riders Snowmobile Club soon after we moved up here,” he said, “because I wanted to help out and be involved in the care of the trail system.”
Mackey, who now serves as the vice president of the Ridge Riders, is among the dozens of volunteers who maintain and improve the vast network of snowmobile trails along the Gunflint Trail and near Grand Marais. In addition to a strong presence up the Trail, the Ridge Riders’ trail system interconnects with state trails and the trail systems from the Tofte/Schroeder/Lutsen area, as well as the Grand Portage Reservation, essentially covering all of Cook County.
Each winter, the Ridge Riders host a series of events in the region with the intent to raise funds for the club and simultaneously improve and upkeep the local trail systems. The keystone event for the Ridge Riders is their Fun Run, which takes place this winter on Saturday, Feb. 6. Now heading into its seventh year, the event features snowmobiling, prizes and good times.
“Our goal was to help the local economy grow from this event,” said Andrea Everson, an active member and secretary/treasurer of the Ridge Riders. “We’re trying to get people from out of town to ride our beautiful trails, while staying at our resorts, hotels and eating at our restaurants.”
The Fun Run typically draws about 200 people annually, with participants coming from Canada and throughout the Midwest to partake in the day’s events.
In addition to the Fun Run, the Ridge Riders will also host drag races at Hungry Jack Lake on Saturday, Feb. 20, and the Annual Trout Derby at Gunflint Lake on Sunday, March 6.
The Ridge Riders Snowmobile Club was founded in 1961. This was prior to the formation of the BWCAW and the original members of the club used to travel in groups to Ely across what is now much of the federally-protected wilderness area. Not only was there the enjoyment of traveling in numbers, but it was essentially necessary due to the unreliability of snowmobiles in the early 60s, according to Jack Heiskari, an early member of the Ridge Riders.
Everson said the Ridge Riders team has worked diligently over the years to make the local snowmobiling trail system accessible for riders of all skill levels. And in a widespread area such as Cook County, that means maintenance work on the trails is never hard to find.
“We do a lot of brushing in the summer and signage replacement,” she said. “And we have the biggest trail system in the state of Minnesota.”
Mackey said it has been tremendous to witness firsthand the development of the Ridge Riders Club, particularly during the past few years.
“A favorite moment was seeing our new groomer maintenance building being built,” he said. “And having the financial stability to have two modern groomers instead of one very old, cantankerous groomer, as when I first joined the club.”
And while the main function of the Ridge Riders, which now boasts 100 members, is to function as a non-profit organization dedicated to maintaining and improving the snowmobile trails in Cook County, they also double as a local-economy booster, Everson noted.
“Our biggest push is to try and make our trails the best they can be, so the resorts and restaurants stay busy and get repeat customers,” she said.
For more information on the Ridge Riders Snowmobile Club or to find specifics about their upcoming events, visit
www.ccscridgeriders.wix.com/ridgeriders or email firstname.lastname@example.org.