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An Echo Press Editorial: Stay safe on snowmobile trails in Douglas County

By the Echo Press Editorial Board

EP Echo Press Editorial
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All the snow this winter is making the Douglas County area a perfect playground for snowmobilers.

The Douglas Area Trails Association deserve credit for their hard work to keep snowmobile trails in great shape. DATA started grooming the trails early this winter. Most trails were open by mid-December and have been holding up well.

For those who may not know about DATA, here’s some background: Located midway between the Twin Cities and Fargo-Moorhead, the Douglas Area Trails Association maintains 368 miles of snowmobile trails in west central Minnesota’s Hardwood Hills and River Prairie landscapes, according to the association.

With the abundance of lakes throughout Douglas County, the DATA Trails offer a combination of open flatland to heavily wooded, hilly riding opportunities. The association says snowmobilers often comment about the spectacular views and abundant wildlife they encounter while riding.

“Every community in Douglas County is connected by trail, so you are never far from food, gas, services, or accommodations,” the association’s website says. “Thirty-six miles of our system is the blacktopped, multi-use Central Lakes Trail which connects us to Fergus Falls to the north or the St. Cloud Area to the south. The Central Lakes Trail provides quick and easy access to trails all across Douglas County.”

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The association is grateful for the people and businesses that allow it to plug the groomers in overnight during winter grooming season: Leaf Valley Mercantile, Jack Bitzan, Garfield Lumber, Joe’s Gas and Deli, Melby Outpost, Douglas County Rune Stone Park, Brian Eastlund, Earl Anderson, Jason Enninga, Brothers Market of Miltona, John Wenner and Farm and Industrial Supply.

Snowmobilers who use the trails can support the trails two ways – by not straying off into private land, and by driving safe.

Because of the steady snowfalls, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources recently sent out a news release reminding eager riders to make safety a priority.

“Opportunities to ride snowmobiles are entirely dependent upon the weather, and in years when there’s a lot of snow, like this year, we see an uptick in riders,” said Capt. Jon Paurus, DNR enforcement education program coordinator. “It’s imperative that anyone who plans to head out makes good decisions and keeps safety at the top of their mind.”

Already this snowmobile season, too many rides have ended in tragedy, Paurus said. While the DNR doesn’t yet have official reports for all fatalities, preliminary reports indicate six riders have died in crashes this season — that’s the same number as the entire 2021-2022 snowmobile season and double the number of the 2020-2021 season.

Eleven snowmobile riders died in 2019-2020 and 10 died in 2018-2019, according to the DNR.

To ensure a safe ride, follow this advice from the DNR:

  • Stay on marked trails. Minnesota’s snowmobile clubs work hard to maintain good riding conditions on the state’s trails. Riders who stay on groomed trails are less likely to strike an obstacle or trespass onto private property. (Civil penalties for snowmobile trespass have doubled this year.) Riders can check trail conditions on the DNR website ( mndnr.gov/snow_depth ) before heading out.
  • Don’t ride impaired. Drinking and riding is a primary cause of crashes and plays a role in about 60% of those that are fatal.
  • Watch your speed and stay to the right. Going too fast is another main cause of crashes. Many serious and fatal crashes occur when a speeding snowmobiler loses control or strikes an object. When meeting another snowmobile, always slow down and stay to the right.
  • Be careful on the ice. In recent years, nearly every through-the-ice fatality has involved people who were riding a snowmobile or all-terrain vehicle when they fell through. There must be at least 5 to 7 inches of new, clear ice to support the weight of a snowmobile and rider. Check the ice thickness as you go.
  • Take a snowmobile safety course. It’s required of anyone born after 1976 and recommended for everyone. People with snowmobile safety certification are less likely to be involved in serious or fatal crashes.

Additional safety tips can be found on the DNR website ( mndnr.gov/snowmobiling/safety.html ).

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