Grooming is the name of the game for the New-Tom Sno Fleas, and all 120 miles of trail that the snowmobile club looks after are well-tended.
“We really take pride in our trails,” Ed Kairis, New-Tom Sno Fleas trail boss, said. “We live in our groomers, I’ll tell you that. We spend a lot of hours out there.”
And the club’s hard work and dedication has been recognized by the county forestry department – three times over, in fact.
“They’ve been giving awards for the best trails for about 10 years now. There’s 10 clubs in Oneida County, and we’ve won it three times,” Kairis said. “I’m hoping this year might be the fourth time because we worked hard this year.”
The New-Tom Sno Fleas was honored with the award in 1998-99, 1999-2000 and 2006-07.
Establishing the Sno Fleas
Contrary to belief, the New-Tom Sno Fleas is not a “new” organization.
“Everybody thinks it’s a new club, but it’s not. It’s been around for a while,” Kairis said.
“The reason it’s called ‘New-Tom’ is it was people from the Newbold area and the Lake Tomahawk area that started it,” Linda Kay Ebel, past New-Tom Sno Fleas treasurer, said. “Our club was chartered in 1971, and we didn’t have a lot of members then.”
Even with low membership numbers in the beginning, the club blazed on with its duties of establishing and maintaining trails. Members worked together to erect a club shed and purchase groomers, putting up their own money for expenses.
“We used to have to pay out of our own pockets. Each board member would throw in $100 and wait for a [reimbursement] check to come in,” Kairis said.
“When we built a small shed [for the club], it was so funny because I can remember all the members that lived up there each put $100 in to start building,” Ebel said. “And there were times when we were waiting for money from the county or the state and we as club members put money in to make the groomer payment until we got reimbursed. But we did it, and we made it through.”
Groomers, fuel for groomers, upkeep of the machinery and trail signs are some of the expenses that need to be covered. While state- and county-funded trails supply some financial relief, fundraisers are a necessary part of the New-Tom Sno Fleas.
“Non-funded trails would be any trail that starts in Lake Tomahawk and ends at a lake or a business. But if it goes past a business to another trail, then it’s funded. So less than half of our trails – about 50 miles – are funded. The rest we have to make up with fundraisers,” Kairis said.
Three groomers make the trip of covering the 120 miles of trail, all done under volunteer hours. Today the club’s groomers are all electronic, equipped with comfortable seats for hours of work, heating elements and more; however, the first groomers were not so accommodating.
“We had older ones ... that were more of the car engine/car transmission-type, but they looked the same. Before that we had a bulldozer-type tractor and we built a plywood cab on it and had a homemade drag for it. The original ones were snowmobiles with homemade drags,” Kairis said. “Since about the 80s, that’s when we started getting the regular grooming-type equipment.”
But before you can groom trails, you must build them.
“At one time, there was nothing and all the trails had to be built, but it’s been the last 15 years that Ed has widened the trails,” Ebel said.
“We used a lot of the logging roads and railroad grades to build the trails,” Kairis said. “There’s not as many trees to take out, but it does make [the trails] narrow because you can’t widen those out like you can in the flat woods. We built basically everything that’s out there.”
Kairis said that Curly Breske, past Sno Fleas president, played a significant role with him in establishing and grooming the area trails.
“Curly used to help Ed out on the trails. They worked hand-in-hand. They were wonderful. And Curly was the most awesome president a club could ever have,” Ebel said.
The trails today
Though the New-Tom Sno Fleas trails have been established for several decades, they are in a constant state of change.
The trails run across both private and public land. At any time, the owners of the private property can decide to cut off trail access. When that occurs, it falls on Kairis and Dennis Folwarski, groomer driver, to find a new route for the trail.
“It’s up to Dennis and me to walk around, find a spot through and go to that other land owner and ask [for a land use agreement],” Kairis said.
“Sometimes a land owner cuts us off so then we have to relocate the trails and get permission from the county or the state or another land owner,” Ebel said, describing the lengthy process. “Ed works so well with the land owners, which is a big thing, and also with the county and the environment people. That’s a big, big thing today, especially when we reroute the trails.”
And new routes mean new maps.
“Of course every year we have to go out and get ads from map advertisers to put our map together. That’s how we pay for it,” Ebel said. “It’s a lot of work.”
Another responsibility of the Sno Fleas is to ensure trail signage is properly laid out.
“We have to put all the signs up, and there’s regulations that you have to meet,” Kairis said. “We carry extra signs in the groomer because each year probably half a dozen or more signs get run over by snowmobiles and they don’t bother to stand them back up.”
And even though springtime is when snowmobilers pack up their machines and gear, Kairis and Folwarski will still be hitting the area trails in preparation of the upcoming season.
“The summer trail work consists of filling in water holes, washouts, and the never-ending rocks that the winter frost keeps pushing up. To keep the trails in good shape in winter, one has to have a good level base so the work has to be done all spring, summer and fall – right up to the time the club members start grooming,” an Oct. 19, 2007, Lakeland Times article reported.
And to keep the trails wide, mowing and brush-cutting is another summer chore.
“We rebuild our trails all summer. The wider you have the trails, the easier it is to keep them up because people can go farther to the edges. Otherwise, if you have a narrow trail, everybody wants to drive down the middle and you get bumps,” Kairis said.
“It’s always about trail improvement because it makes it better for us for grooming, plus it makes it better for riding,” Folwarski said.
As of now, Kairis already has 22 areas of the trails marked for work this summer.
“For somebody just looking in, they don’t have a clue about all the work that goes on,” Ebel said.
Supporting the local economy
All of the hard work put in year-round makes a positive impact on the surrounding community.
“Our trails are probably the best in the area, and that’s very important to the businesses because if your trails are nice and lead right into your town and your businesses, then people will ride your trails. Of course, that helps the economy in our area,” Ebel said.
In order to provide all of the grooming and trail upkeep, fundraisers are a must.
“The club has always worked together and we added a lot of fundraisers,” Ebel said. “But the big thing is the businesses and the landowners are behind us, and the club members work well together.”
The countless hours of labor that goes into trail upkeep as well as the trails’ location make all the difference.
“Down south, most of [the trails] are across farmers’ fields and then through their wood lots, which is only a mile or two, or railroad grade, which is basically open. Our railroad grades are surrounded by pines and it’s like driving down a tunnel,” Kairis said. “That’s the difference – we have more beauty than most of the southern trails.”
For more information about the New-Tom Sno Fleas, visit www.new-tomsnofleas.com.
Sarah Hirsch may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.