Farm Horizons, February 2010
More to be thanking farmers for
By Stephen Wiblemo
Farmers contribute so much to people of their communities, sometimes it’s hard to keep track of all the things they do.
Farmers provide an agricultural backbone, of course, by growing crops and raising livestock, but they also do so much more.
One service many local farmers provide during winter is the use of their land for marked snowmobile trails.
One of the most enjoyed winter outdoor activities in Minnesota wouldn’t be the same if it weren’t for the generosity of many farmers, known to the Wright County Snowmobile Association as “land owners.”
“If we didn’t have these people, we wouldn’t have any trails in Wright County,” WCSA president and Cokato resident Char Hillmeyer said. “They just do this out of the kindness of their hearts. (The trails) are basically designated areas for people to ride their sleds on, and that is what we are trying to do, provide a safe place to ride.”
The WCSA works with land owners to provide these trails for winter recreation. As of 2007, there were 13 groomed and marked trails and side trails spanning 252 miles all over Wright County.
Allowing their land to be used for trails is completely voluntary.
Every year the WCSA holds a free pork chop dinner to thank the land owners, but other than that, they really aren’t compensated for the use of their land. So, unless the land owners really like pork chops, why would they allow their land to be used for sledding every year?
“They just do it to help us out,” Hillmeyer said. “Out of the goodness of their hearts.”
Many of the land owners, kind-hearted people that they are, just see it as yet another harmless way to give a little enjoyment to people of their community.
“It doesn’t bother me to let them use the trails,” land owner Norman Stewart said. “I enjoy seeing them zip across the fields.”
Other land owners, like Mike Janckila, enjoy snowmobiling, and like letting other sledders use the trails.
“I snowmobile myself, and I guess it doesn’t bother me,” Janckila said about having trails on his land. “If it doesn’t hurt you, why wouldn’t you let someone else have some fun? It is either that, or they are in the road ditches.”
While most land owners are happy to allow the WCSA to put trails on their land, there is one issue that can cause problems for everyone.
Before the trails are officially marked, the land owners fill out a permission slip allowing the trails to be run through their property. Once everything is official, the land owners are also protected through the WCSA’s insurance should anything happen to a rider on their land.
The big issue is when some sledders decide to leave the marked trails and go off on their own.
“If they are on the trail, the land owner is protected by our insurance policy,” Hillmeyer said. “They have to be on the trail, though. If they are out in the alfalfa, that is a whole different ballgame.”
Keeping sledders on the trails is a major concern for the WCSA, and the land owners.
“I just don’t want to be liable for them if they get hurt,” Stewart said.
When snowmobilers start blazing their own trails, it becomes a criminal offense, and that is when the sheriff gets involved.
“Sometimes, it’s tough when there hasn’t been much snow. People just lose their common sense,” Hillmeyer said. “They see a nice field and think, ‘let’s hop in and play,’ but that is called trespassing.”
When snowmobilers trespass in areas they aren’t supposed to, some land owners understandably become leery of allowing the trails to go through their land. Some might even consider stopping the usage of their land.
“We try to do as much as we can, working with land owners to resolve issues and keep people on the trails,” Hillmeyer said. “But some people just spoil it for others.”
Fortunately, the kindness of local farmers and land owners doesn’t seem to be dwindling, and as long as the WCSA continues to work with them, there will continue to be nicely groomed trails every winter for responsible riders to get their fix of winter fun.