Harry's gang: Let's slow the roar on Esko snowmobile trails
October 22, 2021
Nothing sounds more like winter in the modern age than the roar of snowmobiles racing across town, engines revving, maybe a long line of enthusiasts following close behind. You just don’t hear that sound during any other season, really.
But I can understand how some people are worried about snowmobiles roaring through their property at all hours of the day, if the proposed snowmobile trail in Esko and Thomson Township goes through. The proposal has caused some controversy, mostly by people whose property is affected by the proposed trail who haven’t been properly informed about the plans, and they are understandably upset. The town board has approved a plan, but the school board, wary of allowing the trail to cross school property, withdrew its approval after the trail route was changed from the initial proposal.
I give the Wood City Riders, a group that has been working for several years on a trail to get snowmobiles through Esko and Thomson Township, an “A” for enthusiasm but just a barely passing grade for execution. That’s because the group has a true mission to make it easier for its members to travel through Esko, and also to encourage others to take up the sport of snowmobiling by making it easier for everyone to use their sleds close to home. But it seems to me that in their enthusiasm, they neglected to understand that others simply don’t share their excitement and are concerned that many problems aren’t being addressed.
I encourage those concerned residents to take more of a wait-and-see approach to the issue, rather than spending too much time opposing it now. That’s for several reasons: first, State law already allows snowmobiles to use road rights of way, unless the town prohibits it across town roads; and second, the town already agreed to allow the trail to cross town roads. So, it’s possible the trail will open as soon as this winter, and residents will have a full season to adjust and maybe tweak the trail; and if it turns into a disaster, they can ask the town to change it altogether.
But the group should take notice of why, it seems, the Esko schools initially agreed to the proposal then rescinded their permission. I talked with the Esko superintendent, Aaron Fischer, who told me the board didn’t quite understand why the route needed to be changed after they initially approved the route crossing school property. The new route included a “J” turn on school property that could have been avoided by continuing down Harney Road rights of way. But I think the board was also a little concerned that the route, which has been in the planning stages for years, was changed so close to the final approvals. I know it’s a hassle to convince private property owners to grant an easement for a trail and to get all the various parties along the route to agree. But the Wood City Riders should not have presented the plan until it was final, final. That was their mistake.
It may not seem so obvious, at first. The Thomson Township board of supervisors has a long history of careful deliberation and consideration before acting on such requests, and this time was no different. The Wood City Riders have been working with township officials for several years on this idea, and I’m confident nearly all issues have been considered. It’s been discussed at so many town meetings over the years that anyone with an interest in the trail has had plenty of time to bring their concerns forward. And winter is coming soon. It’s time to let the trail open.
I understand that snowmobiles can be loud and disruptive. I certainly sympathize with residents being disturbed in their home by the blaring engines whizzing by, especially in the evenings when people are starting to relax and go to bed. While Thomson Township is mostly rural, the trail is adjacent to quite a few residential properties, so I would encourage snowmobilers to be respectful.
I hope that the Wood City Riders, an all-volunteer snowmobile club that is promoting the trail, hears and addresses such concerns. After all, if snowmobilers don’t respect the residents along the trails they use, there may not be any more trails for them to use. And many local residents enjoy snowmobiles for sport and for utility — just look at the Town Hall and the high school parking lots on snowy days, and you’ll see how many people use snowmobiles for basic transportation.
We have plenty of opportunities to take advantage of the great outdoor activities Minnesotans enjoy, in all seasons. Snowmobiling is one of them, and if more trails make snowmobiling funner, safer and more popular, I’m in favor of giving it a try.