By LIAM JACKSON
Capital News Service
LANSING – Snowmobile trail groomers anticipate more snow this year than last winter, but the season is not off to a good start.
“The weather forecast says snow is going to be good this year, but we just haven’t seen it yet,” Karl Davenport, the president of the Jordan Valley Trails Council, said. “Trails opened eight or nine days ago, and it’s not looking good.”
Jordan Valley Trails Council in Northwest Michigan is one of 69 Michigan trail sponsors that receive state grants to groom trails.
“Last year was the worst year I have been a part of,” Davenport said. “We would get snow. Then it would rain, and all the snow would go away.”
Snowmobiling season in Michigan begins on Dec. 1 and runs through March 31, said Richard Kennedy, a state trails operations and grant specialist for the Department of Natural Resources.
Fortunately for snowmobilers, predictions for a snowy remainder of winter are positive.
“The weather people are calling for a good snow year, which would be fabulous” said Karen Middendorp, the director of the Michigan Snowmobile and ORV Association.
For every mile that the sponsor grooms, it receives a stipend, Middendorp said
Snowmobile permits produced over $8 million in revenue for the 2023 budget, Kennedy said. The money comes from annual trail permits and snowmobile registrations. That has been about average for the fund in recent years.
“The grant program pays for brushing and signing, grooming, comprehensive and liability insurance, land lease payments, snow plowing of trailheads, Porta-John rentals, special maintenance projects, equipment purchases of tractors and drags and major repair of equipment,” Kennedy said.
Last year, sponsors groomed about 370,000 miles of Michigan trails. While the mileage fluctuates, the last few years have been lower than average due to less snowfall, especially in the Lower Peninsula, Kennedy said.
“Grooming is snow- and weather-dependent,” Kennedy said.
Most trail sponsors volunteer long hours during snowmobiling season.
“A lot of people have a misconception that we get paid a lot of money,” Davenport said. “It is all volunteerism. Many grooms can be eight, 10, 12 hours a day.”
The ideal winter weather for snowmobiling would be 2 to 4 inches of fresh snow every five days and cold temperatures, Middendorp said.
While 2022 was below average in terms of mileage groomed, it was an uptick compared with 2021. That year produced the least groomed mileage recorded since 2012. Some 2020 data is missing because of the COVID pandemic, according to the DNR.
The DNR logs and maps designated trails in Michigan. This interactive map shows which trails are open and closed and the sponsor of each trail or section of trails: https://midnr.maps.arcgis.com/apps/webappviewer/index.html?id=87bf33a87cfc4e3882743abc2da52231.