Heavy snow made it an excellent winter for the Hillsburgh Snowroamers this year, even if the heavy ice made for some intense weeks of work.
“The season was fantastic – normally we’re happy to get 6-8 weeks,” said Snowroamers President Gord Wiesner. Instead of finishing before the March Break, riders could use the local trail system until the end of March.
Two years ago there was so little snow, there was no season in the Erin area.
Things got off to a rough start this year when the Christmas ice storm brought thousands of branches crashing down, making trails impassible.
Credit Valley Conservation (CVC) did not have staff available to clear the Elora Cataract Trailway, so the Snowroamers got out their chainsaws, even arranging emergency training so more people could help with the cleanup.
For several weeks the cutters and safety spotters were out working, with risks from falling ice and bent trees. Volunteers put in more than 550 hours and got the main line open by January 19.
“It is a testament that they are a well-organized, tenacious, hard-working group, ready to overcome any obstacle to enjoy the sport they love,” said Wiesner.
Snowmobile riders actually pay CVC for the right to use the trail, and the grooming work that they do makes the trail easily usable for hikers, dog walkers and skiers.
It can cost up to $260 to buy an Ontario-wide season’s permit, depending on the age of your sled. Local clubs get revenue from the permits, and their mandate is to reinvest that back into maintenance and upgrading of trails.
The Hillsburgh club owns various equipment, including a $130,000 grooming machine. Over the years they have put thousands of dollars into projects like bridges, culverts and signage.
In the fall they start marking trails on private land, then do preliminary grooming before opening, normally after Christmas. After the season, stakes and signs are removed.
The club works hard to maintain good relations with landowners, though Wiesner said it can be difficult getting all riders to stick to the trails. Their network extends from Brisbane up to Dufferin County Road 109, and west towards Belwood.
The club gets involved in the community, putting on an event for the Special Friends Club that provides members with rides and a campfire with refreshments.
The local traffic generated by snowmobile trails also provides a lift for the economy, with money being spent on restaurant food, gas, oil and parts.
Wiesner said the province-wide impact is about $1 billion per year, though the number of riders has declined substantially in the last 10-15 years. It is not just because of warmer winters, but the cost of insurance for associations and individual owners has been increasing.