Wishing for a winter wonderland

The fate of the Sunset Country Snowmobile Club rests in the hands of Old Man Winter.
So says club president Rick Socholotuk, who will join a legion of snowmachine enthusiasts in praying for enough snow this winter that will help preserve the area’s 300-plus km network of snowmobile trails.
“Another year with no snow and it will be very dangerous out there,” said Socholotuk. “You can’t groom rocks and mud.”
Even though district residents were greeted with the first real snowfall of the season earlier this week, average snowfall in Northwestern Ontario has been on an alarming downward trend the past few years, he noted.
“Now we’re lucky if we get a foot,” Socholotuk remarked. “After you compress that, you’ve got nothing left.”
This paucity of precipitation has impacted the local snowmobile scene in several ways.
Four years ago, for instance, the local snowmobile club sold about 600 of the permits which are required to ride the trail system and are the club’s main source of revenue.
Last year, that number plummeted to 109.
“People don’t realize that we are a volunteer-based, non-profit organization,” noted Socholotuk, who added permits can be obtained for $140 before Dec. 1.
Money also is at the root of the current upswing in people selling their snowmachines.
Individuals and families who possess more than one machine now are desperately trying to divest themselves of what’s become an unaffordable luxury.
“The insurance is just too high, and they’re not getting enough usage out of the second machine,” Socholotuk noted.
The Sunset Country club’s trails—which extend from Fort Frances as far as Manitou to the north, Redgut Bay to the east, and La Vallee Road South to the west, may undergo a facelift in the near future.
“There’s the possibility of building loop trails within the system,” said Socholotuk. “Sometimes we don’t have as much snow as we do 20 miles north of here.
“Our goal is to get people out to area that have more usable snow.”
Also in the works is the establishment of a local branch of the S.T.O.P. program.
Local residents will go through a two-year training procedure with the OPP, which currently monitors the trails, to eventually become certified trail enforcement officials.
“We’ve still got a lot of people who are using our trail system without the proper permit,” Socholotuk stressed. “The presence of these S.T.O.P. officers means the route will be extra safe.
“The more people using the system, especially those who shouldn’t be there, means the more work you have to do on it,” he added.
Anyone wanting to volunteer, including high school students looking to fulfill their community service requirement to graduate, are invited to Socholotuk at 274-5133.