S nowmobilers in Hartford are praying for snow.
For nearly two years their machinery has sat idle, and club membership dropped due to lack of snow and a slow economy.
After a dose of real winter after Christmas, though, anyone with a sled is chomping at the bit to get riding.
“Everybody and his brother was out after it snowed,” said Mike Irwin, president of the Hartford Ridge Riders.
And they’re not alone — 14,000 new members signed up for New York state snowmobilers clubs over the course of four days at the end of December, said Robert Putorti, Washington County representative for the New York State Snowmobile Association Board of Directors and President of the Whitehall RailRiders.
Putorti saw his trails in Whitehall being used as well. His club has had 58 new members sign up in the past week, bringing the total to nearly 100, which is more than double where membership was last year at this time.
Hartford also has about 100 members at this point, but that number is way down from three seasons ago, when there were over 250 people signed up. Irwin expects more to join as the ground becomes whiter.
What both club presidents pointed out is the amount of effort, time and money that goes into the trails. Between Hartford and Argyle, the Ridge Riders have access to 51 miles of trails. Irwin said the majority of work, such as putting up signs, trimming, brush-hogging and fixing bridges is done well before the end of the season.
“For a club to be run right today, it’s got to be 365. We put in 2,000 stakes every year and remove as many; they take quite a few dollars and quite a few man hours to be up to state c lub and state government regulations,” Irwin said, adding that the machines were a little tricky to start after they sat idle for nearly 24 months.
Putorti said his club has been trying to widen trails and making them more passable in dangerous parts. The first grooming on the 16 miles of trails in Whitehall was done last Thursday.
In Granville, the Border Riders worked on their 60 miles of trails every weekend in the fall, Club President Dan Daigle said.
Local snowmobile clubs get funding and grants each year based off of their mileage through the state and the state club. Presidents are therefore careful about keeping very accurate paperwork. Local clubs absorb what isn’t covered through membership fees and fundraisers.
Families who don’t pay the typical $25 fee to join a club pay $100 for each snowmobile they register, whereas those who are in a club pay only $45 for each registration.
Irwin estimates the Ridge Riders spent more than $20,000 this year on maintenance, and all of the presidents pointed out how the area economy is affected if we don’t get snow.
Daigle, whose club includes about 300 individuals, said about a third of those are regularly bringing money into the area.
“There are upwards of 100 people that drive to Granville or through here to get gas, to eat, etc.,” Daigle said.
Yet another aspect to ensure a good season for sleds is communication with property owners.
“There are 107 landowners that we talk to in order to get permission each year,” Irwin said, explaining that a clean-up crew also has to check that things are intact post snow. “All these things have to be taken into consideration.”
Daigle stressed the importance of riders keeping their sleds where they should be.
“It’s very important that they follow the signage to keep the landowners happy, because without them we have squat,” he said.
After last year’s lack of winter, snowmobilers look forward to better conditions this season.
“I’m hoping we have a good year so we can get more members and more people involved; more people equals more help,” Putorti said.