Keeping Fort Frances trails groomed is a team sport

Merna Emara
Staff Writer

The winter season is earmarked for different snow activities. Just like a lot of time and energy is dedicated to maintaining the ice for curlers and hockey players, volunteers work tirelessly to maintain the trails in town in order to make a fun and memorable walking, skiing and snowshoeing experience.

Darryl McLeod, 61, has been maintaining the 8th St. Trails since 2016. McLeod said the pandemic has really shown the importance of having an outdoor trail for residents and dogs to use. Trail usage has been significantly higher this year, he added.

“It is just one thing I can do for the community,” McLeod said. “I really enjoy being out there in the bush snowmobiling throughout the winter and it’s good exercise.”

McLeod said he usually goes out to maintain the trails three times a week and it takes about three hours to get the job done.

“We’re involved in maintaining the walking and cross country ski trails at the 8th street trail network,” McLeod said. “Maintenance includes grooming the trails in the wintertime, brushing and maintaining signage and that’s done on a volunteer basis. The town of Fort Frances actually is the owner of the trails and they provide the equipment.”

Although there is not a specific time to maintain trails, McLeod said it is ideally done early in the morning before there is too much activity.

“As soon as we get enough snow in the fall to get the snowmobiles out, we start packing trails and it goes right through until April when the snow diminishes,” McLeod said. “We try to keep the trails maintained after each snowfall.”

The 8th St. Trails can be used for walking and skiing.

Jim Avis, 66, maintains the Rocky Inlet Trails, where people snowshoe, cross-country ski and skate ski.

The rocky Inlet Trials has four loops that are connected via inside loops. Avis said they start the grooming process at the end of the day. Avis said they usually do three passes on each trail to have a flat surface.

“We groom once people are finished skiing for the day,” Avis said. “The reason for that is so that it freezes overnight, and it’s ready for the next day. That’s the ideal situation. But the weather doesn’t always dictate that.”

Grooming creates a flat and smooth surface which helps skiers go faster on the trails and avoid sinking in the snow. The snowmobile that Avis uses has four attachments that are interchangeable.

“We can switch from one to the other,” Avis said. “We normally use two machines and we have a backup one in case we have a breakdown but if we get a big dump we use a thing called a roller, and the roller just knocks all the snow down.”

Avis said they have also seen a surge in people using the trails because of COVID-19.

“It’s been used a lot by people that have never been out there,” Avis said. “We have more members this winter than we ever have. People have been really good about social distancing and wearing masks but as soon as you’re on the trails, you’re separated.”

Avis is not the only volunteer at the Rocky Inlet. Jim Krag, Cam Moorhouse and Butch Wensley also take turns during the week to groom and maintain the trails.

Additional volunteers that have helped McLeod over the last four years have included Rick Sekulich, who helped with signage, Les Gurski did trail brushing and Fort Frances Seniors Centre placed wood trail signs.

Dave Chepil helped with winter trail maintenance in 2015 and 2016. Besides McLeod, Neil Whitefield and John Homer also helped with grooming in 2020 and 2021. Cory Calder does the summer trail maintenance.

Ray Calder Jr. and Bob Green from the Town of Fort Frances look over maintaining the grooming equipment. Besides providing the snowmobile and the groomers, the town also provides gas to run the equipment.

Bob Holmes, Leon Wells, Ron Grabowski, Art Colfer and several others made up the original 8th St. Trail Association and trail creation.