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Snowmobiling getting slow start this year

Following the recent snowfall throughout Minnesota, some snowmobile trails are open but likely not groomed, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Several conditions must be met before trails are open for travel. The ground must be frozen to allow for the crossing of wet areas; there must be about 12 inches of snow to allow for adequate packing and grooming of most natural surface forest trails; and trails must be cleared, signs installed and gates opened.

In agricultural areas, crops need to be harvested and fields prepared. With the wet fall and very mild temperatures the harvest is running well behind schedule this year which has put snowmobile trail preparation behind schedule as well.

"We are waiting for more cold weather, the crop harvest to be completed, and adequate snow," said DNR's Northeast East Regional Parks and Trails Manager, Les Ollila. "Each year, a few snowmobile enthusiasts take to the trails after the first snowfall only to find they are rushing the season. It takes a lot of work to get trails ready each year and with the wet and warm fall this effort is taking longer in many cases."

Snowmobile clubs and the DNR are working to open grant-in-aid and state trails as winter conditions improve throughout the state.

When the trails open, the DNR urges early season riders to use caution. Early season trails may have trees or other debris across trails, unfrozen areas, rocks or ruts, or standing crops and closed gates. Also, road ditches have obstacles to watch for under grass and snow, such as culverts, signposts, and rocks. And, even though there have had some cold spells, the ice is not yet thick enough to support snowmobiles. The DNR recommends five inches of new clear ice for snowmobiles.

Ollila also reminds trail users that many snowmobile trails cross private land. Landowners give permission for snowmobile use on the trails beginning as early as Dec. 1, if the land is available and crops have been harvested. Landowner permission is for snowmobiles only; all other use is considered trespass.

Minnesota has more than 22,000 miles of groomed snowmobile trails. Snowmobile trail maintenance costs are partially funded through snowmobile registrations, trail pass sales, and the un-refunded gas tax attributed to snowmobile use. Donations and volunteer work by trail clubs make up the remainder of the costs and efforts to operate these trails.

Ollila suggested trail users should call ahead or they can check state trails conditions on the DNR Web site at or by calling 651-296-6157 or toll-free 888-MINNDNR (646-6367).

Trail information and local contacts are on the Web site under Maps and Contacts and are also on the back of the Minnesota DNR Snowmobile Trails maps which show the snowmobile trails in each of four quadrants of the state.