Numbers on the Raccoon River Valley Trail are expected to jump this winter, with snowmobilers now authorized for the first time to use the trail in all three counties. A new regional snowmobile club is helping with the coordination and cooperation. New rules are established. Details are here.
PANORA, Iowa, December 19, 2009 – You can expect to see a lot more people using the 56 miles of the Raccoon River Valley Trail in west central Iowa this winter – many of them on snowmobiles.
Previously, snowmobiles were allowed only on the portion of the RRVT here in Guthrie County.
But last winter, snowmobile enthusiasts in the area organized a new regional club, the Raccoon Valley Snow Chasers, and they now have more than 100 members. They persuaded the Conservation Boards of Dallas and Greene Counties to open the trail to snowmobiles in those counties, too.
“We hope this is going to be a real positive development,” said Carla Offenburger, of Cooper, president of the Raccoon River Valley Trail Association, which markets and promotes the entire trail and all its communities. “There’s been some strain in the past between snowmobilers, property owners and other trail users. But with new rules, a well-organized group of snowmobilers and new cooperation, we think this will work well for everybody. And it means more people out using the RRVT. We like that idea.”
The conservation boards in the three counties established a common “snowmobile policy” for use of the trail, including:
– There must be four inches of snow cover.
– Snowmobiles have to remain on the hard surface of the trail, within the county-owned trail right-of-way, and do no trespassing on the property of adjacent landowners. Where the trail goes through cities and towns, snowmobilers must obey local ordinances, including those prohibiting excessive noise.
– No “studs” are allowed on the snowmobile track when the machines are used on the RRVT, to avoid damage to the asphalt or concrete trail surfaces.
– Snowmobilers on the trail are required to have and carry RRVT trail user permits.
The snowmobile season got off to a great start when a blizzard December 8-9 covered much of the RRVT area with 12 to 15 inches of snow.
Eric Chrystal, of Panora, president of the Snow Chasers, said that first big snow actually came before club members were ready for it.
“Our agreements with the counties were that we’d go out and mark the trail for hazards, the edges of the surface, the bridges and all that with the standardized Iowa DNR (Department of Natural Resources) signs,” Chrystal said. “We hadn’t gotten all that done yet, and then we all had to spend several days digging out our own places, just like everybody else.”
But the snowmobiles were soon running on the RRVT in all three counties.
“What we’ve found is that our some areas with major drifting, like both south and north of the town of Yale,” he said. “There are other areas where the snow was about perfect, like between Redfield and Adel.”
Because the Snow Chasers are a regional club recognized by the Iowa DNR, they have been assigned two trail grooming machines, and use of those was to begin this weekend, December 19-20, and continue the rest of the winter. They are heavy, specially-equipped snowmobiles which pull an extra machine that grooms and packs the surface.
“Part of getting the groomers was that we hold a training class, and we did that earlier this month,” Chrystal said. He said more than a dozen club members were certified by the DNR to operate the groomers.
The machines will be used to “knock-down the big drifts,” he said, and that will help even out the snow surface. He added that a 12-inch snow can be “packed down to about two inches” by the groomers. As snows keep coming, the depth of the surface will grow.
“One of the side benefits of having the trail groomed for snowmobile use is that it will also make it better for cross-country skiing,” Chrystal said. “We noticed through the years that when cross-country skiers come out, most of them like to ski in the groove that snowmobiles have created, because it’s a little easier than breaking a new trail. With the groomers, we’ll now have a surface there that will be seven feet wide,” instead of just the width of one snowmobile.
Mike Wallace, conservation director in Dallas County, pointed out that the new “North Loop” of the RRVT – where preparation and paving of 33 miles of new trail surface is underway – is not open to snowmobile use. He said the North Loop is posted with signs, specifying that no snowmobiles are allowed, but that rule has already been violated.
“It’s not a surprise that they are ignoring the no-snowmobiling signs,” Wallace said. “This type of activity is what gives the snowmobilers a bad image, and all kinds of unauthorized activity has been going on for years on the segment west of Perry.”
Chrystal and the Snow Chasers club have pledged to encourage members and the general public to learn and obey all the laws and regulations for snowmobile use of the trail. He has explained how the club’s educational out-reach and presence on the trail will enhance public understanding and compliance.
“With a marked and groomed trail, and if we keep getting good snowfall, we think this is really going to take off,” he said. “We expect to see a lot more people on the trail in the winter months, and that should have a positive economic impact on the area.”
You can read more about the Snow Chasers in a story published in early December in the Guthrie Center Times. To read that story, click here. You can also go to the snowmobile club’s site on the Internet by clicking here.