Jim Hamilton, president of the Boulder Junction Snowmobile Club said the club was panning trails in preparation for the upcoming snowmobiling season.
The last of their trails was panned Thursday, Dec. 5.
“We’ll have all the trails panned down,” Hamilton said. “The cold weather is hitting now, so it’ll freeze down and make a nice base.”
The ice from the Dec. 3-4 snow/rain event probably did some good, he said.
An inspection of the club’s trails by Dale Mayo, Vilas County recreation administrator, was planned for Tuesday, Dec. 10. Things looked to be on schedule.
While it was originally thought that Vilas County would reopen their trails Dec. 17, that tentative date has been moved up to this Friday, Dec. 13.
Snowmobile trails won’t open until after the last of the gun deer hunting seasons close. There is a statewide four-day antlerless gun hunt that runs through Dec. 15.
Eric Rady, Oneida County recreation coordinator, said Oneida County does things a little differently than Vilas County, where an opening date is already targeted. They’ll get together after the antlerless hunt, he said.
“People don’t give permission on their property until that doe hunt is over,” Rady said. “That ends the 15th. The 16th of December, on that Monday morning, Oneida County and our 10 clubs ... we will all get together and see if opening up ASAP is going to be a possibility. As of now, I think it will be.”
Rady said he has to give the clubs 48 hours notice to go through their trails one last time to make sure they are brushed, signed and ready, and that the gates are all open.
“We’re hoping for mid-week that week,” Rady said.
Rady said he was out on the trails Thursday, Dec. 5, and that the rain and heavy snow have made the trails difficult to navigate.
“All the trees right now are really leaning in towards the trail and the clubs have a lot of brushing to do. So, that was kind of a downfall,” Rady said.
He noted that the rain/snow combination should make for a nice base, though.
If the clubs are ready to go when Dec. 16 rolls around, conditions look, so far, like they’re favorable for trails to open that week with more cold in the forecast.
“We’ve got cold, we’ve got snow. As long as the clubs are ready to go and the trails are ready and we’ve got all the land use agreements and stuff like that we should be opening, hopefully, in the next couple of weeks.”
New-Tom Sno Fleas
A Dec. 5 New-Tom Sno Fleas trail update (http://new-tomsnofleas.com/) also noted snow and rain from the storm Dec. 3-4 left a lot of branches hanging low over the trails. There was about 7 inches of snow total after the rain settled it, the report said.
The expectation was that the cold weather in the forecast would help to solidify swamp and lake crossings, though it was pointed out that snow can insulate swamps and there might be a need to pack snow down in the swamps.
Harkins issues a warning
Regarding the concern about the trail conditions on area lakes, Pat Harkins, a past president and current member of the board of directors for the Minocqua Forest Riders Snowmobile Club, said people need to be careful.
Harkins said as a person who has been through the ice three or four times in his life while trapping beaver and ice fishing and as a person who, during his many years as a conservation warden involved in the recovery of drowning victims who went through the ice while snowmobiling, he can speak to the safety awareness that he said needs to be brought to the forefront.
“In some of the shallow bays, near shore, where we might have three or four inches of ice,” he said, “that typically freezes over first and it gradually freezes out and covers the whole lake. Once you get a cover of snow on top of that, especially this heavy, rainy, wet snow we’ve had, that pushes that thin ice down and the water comes on top and you have a layer of the lake and a layer of thin ice.”
Harkins said there might be thin ice in the middle or nearly no ice at that point.
“You’ve got slush and more snow and all this water coming up on there,” he said. “There’s warm water underneath, water on top of the ice and it just is a very dangerous situation. ”
He said it may look good from the surface but unless steps are taken to test ice thickness every few feet, such as with an ice bar or an auger, it may not be all that good.
“Typically, when we mark with our barrels, we’ll take an ice auger and start at six or seven inches of ice and cautiously proceed across these lakes to make sure there’s enough ice,” Harkins said. “You could have pockets in the middle where it’s six inches in one spot and a hundred yards away, it’s down to an inch thick or less.”
At this point, Harkins said people riding freely on the lakes thinking it’s going to be safe everywhere because they’re covered with snow will be making a dangerous assumption.
Harkins said his club, the Minocqua Forest Riders, has not yet put markers on lakes.
“Simply because it was just getting frozen up and now we’ve gotten all this ice and snow,” he said. “Probably in this next week is when we’d be starting to do that with the anticipated opening of not earlier than Dec. 18 with the end of the muzzleloading hunting season. We’re looking at trying to get some barrels out in the next week.”
Harkins said as the major, funded portions of the snowmobile trails not on lakes do open, they will, of course, have sections of lakes on them.
“These people that ride to a lake ... if they go on there, they may be riding at great peril,” he said. “They might see trails on these lakes but it might be a local that has personally checked things out. If they see trails there, they need to be very, very cautious. If we would’ve had, you know, cold weather and no snow on top of this ice, this ice would probably be good to go. With the current situation, with all the snow and slush and water we’ve had ... it’s going to be melting from the bottom up and not freezing down.”
Rhinelander Area Silent Trails Association, in a Dec. 3 report, said that packing had taken place that day on the Washburn Lake Cross Country Ski Trails. Plans to pack on Dec. 4 were also noted. RASTA anticipated grooming and setting a track Thursday, Dec. 5.
The Cassian Ski Trails can’t be groomed until the ground freezes in several places. Readiness is evaluated on a day-to-day basis.
The Nose Lake Ski Trails were to be groomed after the Washburn trails. Grooming equipment needed to be moved to the trail head. The report indicated that grooming could take place over the weekend (Dec. 7-8) or the following week.
Brian Jopek contributed to this article.
Craig Turk may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.