More cold temps needed; trails still being prepared

Thanks to some early season snowstorms, there is anywhere from eight to 12-inches of snow covering most of the central Iron Range area.

While all that fresh powder is good for cross country skiers and sore backs from shoveling, snowmobilers chomping at the bit to get out and hit some of the area’s most popular trails are going to have to wait a little longer in most places.

Some sections of club trails are being groomed now – one example is the area between Hibbing and Buhl – other spots are hit and miss. When it comes to the two big state trails in the region, the Taconite and the Arrowhead, there’s been no grooming to this point.

The reason for that is the usual suspect at this time of year – swamps that aren’t frozen.

And Department of Natural Resources officials tasked with getting the Taconite and Arrowhead ready are finding it a little more difficult than normal this December to get going because of the above-average amount of rain fall we saw in September and October.

It’s twice as wet as usual and it hasn’t been cold enough for the swamps to freeze fully leading to a situation where if groomers try to cross thin ice their heavy machines, they could end up sinking.

So we need more cold weather.

Minnesota’s snowmobile trails open on Dec. 1 each year but according to a press release from the DNR earlier this week, regardless of the date on the calendar, several conditions must be met before trails are groomed and ready for travel:

• The ground must be frozen.

• Where trails cross wetlands, 15 inches of ice is needed to support the weight of the trail groomers.

• Adequate snow cover, about 12 inches, must be on the ground to allow for trail packing and grooming.

• Trails must be cleared of fallen trees, signs put in place and gates opened. Snowmobile club volunteers and DNR staff are currently working on these tasks.

“It’s a big job for local volunteers and DNR staff to get the trail system up and running each year, especially with varying weather conditions,” said John Waters, state trails and snowmobile program consultant. “Crews are clearing brush, packing snow in wet areas, checking signs and tuning up grooming machines. We always hope for early cold temperatures followed by an abundance of fresh snow so snowmobilers can have a safe and lengthy riding season.”

According to DNR officials, even after a chilly start to November, ice on most lakes is not safe for travel. The DNR recommends a minimum of five to seven inches of new clear ice for snowmobiles.

While snowmobilers wait for the arrival of snow and cold temperatures, the DNR is reminding everyone that this a good time to make sure registrations are current.

I would normally laugh at a statement like that and the cynical side of my brain would respond with, “sure, the state wants their money – snow or no snow.”

But then I think back to last year when me and buddy loaded our sleds on his trailer and made our way to Lake Vermilion for our first ride of season.

On our way up he told me how he had nearly forgotten to get his new stickers and that he’d have to put them on when we got to the Lake. I laughed at his procrastination but then when we arrived at our destination and he went to uncover his sled to apply the stickers, it suddenly dawned on me that we bought our snowmobiles the same year.

I threw back my cover and what do you know, my stickers had expired. I forgot all about it.

Whoops.

Registrations for new snowmobiles may be purchased in person at any deputy registrar of motor vehicles or at the DNR License Bureau in St. Paul. Renewals of registrations and out-of-state trail stickers may be purchased in person, or online at mndnr.gov/licenses.

This year I went the online route for a couple of my older Polaris sleds and that was a pretty pain free process. The stickers arrived with a few days of purchase and I didn’t have to leave the house.

Local trail conditions are often posted online by local tourism associations, chambers of commerce and volunteer snowmobile clubs. To find the nearest club, visit the Minnesota United Snowmobiler’s Association website at mnsnowmobiler.org.

There are some trails closer to the North Shore in good condition since they got more snow over that way. For more info, do a quick search on the DNR’s website for up-to-date state trail conditions.

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New walleye plan on Red Lake

The DNR, Red Lake Nation and Bureau of Indian Affairs has signed a new 10-year memorandum of understanding (MOU) today that outlines continued cooperative management of the walleye population in Upper and Lower Red Lake in northwest Minnesota. The signing took place during a ceremony in Red Lake.

“Red Lake Band members are pleased that our walleye have come back and our fishing community is revitalized,” said Darrell Seki, chairman of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians. “We are committed to ensuring that Red Lake walleye are managed sustainably in the future.”

“Renewing this agreement will enable the Fisheries Technical Committee to continue its work to help protect this valuable resource,” Seki said. “While the walleye fishery has rebounded, we must now focus our attention on ridding Red Lake of invasive species.”

This MOU provides an opportunity for the parties to address other issues that arise such as the prevention and eradication of invasive species.

The new MOU closely parallels previous 1999-2019 agreements that facilitated restoration of high-quality walleye fishing to Minnesota’s largest inland body of water. The agreement states that each entity will support the Red Lake Fisheries Technical Committee, a joint panel of experts that recommends policies and practices to maintain a healthy fishery.

“We’ve come a long way in the past 20 years,” said DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen, noting that the combined state and tribal harvest continues to average around 1 million pounds per year. “By renewing this agreement, we are reaffirming our commitment to a successful partnership and working together for the future of this outstanding fishery.”

Historically, Upper and Lower Red Lake was a highly productive walleye fishery, but it collapsed in the mid-1990s due to over harvest. The Red Lake Fisheries Technical Committee was formed in 1997.

Since then, the regulations, policies and other actions this joint body has recommended have led to a healthy walleye population and a resurgent walleye fishing economy.

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