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Cloquet-area club works year-round to maintain snowmobile trails

Ellie Regas, 14, of Carlton completes her riding performance course on a closed track near the Wood City Riders grooming barn. (Jamey Malcomb/Pine Journal)1 / 3
Wood City Riders President Chris Rokke (left) and Vice President Mike Gravelle work to clear branches from the a trail the club maintains near the St. Louis River in Cloquet. (Jamey Malcomb/Pine Journal)2 / 3
Jake Peterson (right) and Bill Soboleski, both of Cloquet, walk through a pre-ride inspection as part of Jake's snowmobile safety training course at the Wood City Riders grooming barn near the Cloquet Carlton County Airport. (Jamey Malcomb/Pine Journal)3 / 3

The snow dropped on the region in the past few weeks was a welcome change for the Wood City Riders, a Cloquet-based snowmobile club.

The snow also meant the club had a lot to do to prepare for the parade of riders looking to take advantage of the fresh powder. Work crews from the club were out Jan. 5-6 working to clear trails of brush and branches that had fallen into the trails.

Near the St. Louis River in Cloquet, Wood City Riders President Chris Rokke and Vice President Mike Gravelle were clearing a trail of branches bowed with heavy snow.

"When you get that wet heavy snow like we did, it exposes every flaw that you have," Rokke said as he sawed yet another low-hanging branch into the trail.

Club members tend to spend almost as much time working on the trails as they do exploring the 55 miles of trails they maintain, Rokke said. The trail network connects south to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources' Munger Trail, west to trails maintained by the Cromwell Snow Gophers and north to those groomed by the Alborn Snow Devils.

During the winter, volunteer groomers are out on the trails three days a week, typically working in 10 hour shifts to keep the trails in good shape for riders. Gravelle, a Wrenshall resident, said he maintains 22 miles of trail with the groomer each week.

"When you're going 3 miles an hour, it takes a while," Gravelle said.

Club members also spend up to eight weekends each summer and fall repairing the trail.

Back at the club's grooming barn near the Cloquet Carlton County Airport, Bill Soboleski and DNR Conservation Officer Scott Staples were performing another vital task for the club: providing safety classes and evaluations for young riders.

In Minnesota, anyone born after Dec. 31, 1976, is required to complete a snowmobile safety training course — either online or in a traditional classroom — and successfully complete a riding performance course.

Ellie Regas,14, of Carlton and Jake Peterson, 13, of Cloquet walked Soboleski through a pre-ride safety inspection and then took to a closed course to demonstrate what they had learned so they could get their certification.

Soboleski, who has been teaching safety courses for 25 years, said Ellie was so "anxious" to get her certification that she's been calling him for weeks about when she could complete her safety course.

"I wanted to ride. I wanted to go snowmobiling legally," Ellie said.

She said the first place she was going to take her first legal snowmobile ride was Chub Lake, near her house.

Ellie and Jake had another reason for their interest in snowmobiling: "Going fast," they each said in separate interviews.

Rokke said the safety courses and evaluations are as important as the volunteer work on the trails. The club, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary later in 2019, needs younger riders that are committed to the sport and willing to do the work necessary to maintain fun, fast and safe trails. The club typically has 75-100 members ranging from age 13 to those in their 80s.

For more information about Wood City Riders, visit its Facebook page or go to woodcityriders.com.

Jamey Malcomb

Jamey Malcomb has been a reporter for the Pine Journal since October 2018. He previously worked as a reporter for the Lake County News-Chronicle from 2015-2018. Malcomb is a native of North Carolina and holds a bachelor's degree in English and history from the George Washington University and a master's degree in education from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Malcomb moved to Minnesota in July 2012 and worked as a sports clerk and news assistant at the Duluth News Tribune. 

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