Osseo Man Awarded for Dedication to Expanding and Maintaining Snowmobile Trails
By Deb Schreiner
Less than 10,000 people lived in Maple Grove when Craig Wissink joined the Northwest Trails Association in 1977.
Wissink said back then, snowmobilers were going wherever they pleased, and it was causing problems. “We needed to get the trail system a little more established.”
As Trail Captain, Wissink maintained a section of trail. “I was responsible for getting permission from public and private entities to have our trails on their property.” He also worked with the Maple Grove City Council and staff to determine trail routes.
Norman (Skip) Larson, Director At Large for Northwest Trails Association, said Wissink was chosen for the High Mark Award because of his tireless work for the club for the last forty years. “When there’s a brushing event or a meeting, he’s the one who shows up.”
Wissink said he was surprised by the award. “I didn’t expect anything. I was honored and humbled by it.”
The High Mark Award is relatively new. Wissink received the award for the 2015-2016 Winter Season.
As the population of Maple Grove grew, the snowmobile trail system dwindled. “We had about 35 miles back in the late seventies,” Wissink said. “Now, there are only about three miles of trails left in northern Maple Grove.” Osseo hasn’t allowed snowmobiles within the city limits for twenty years.
As the Twin Cities Metropolitan Area pushes further west, Larson said the challenge is to maintain access to the northwestern Hennepin County suburbs. The Association covers about 135 miles of snowmobile trails, including Maple Grove, Plymouth, Corcoran, Rogers, Dayton, Independence, Maple Plain, Orono, Long Lake, and Hanover.
New developments often require the Association to re-route trails. Others will allow them to stay. “This is an ongoing battle that we see with every passing year,” said Larson. “Development is making it harder for us to maintain our trails. It’s progress. You can’t fight it, but it is an issue for us.”
“We install trail signs in the fall to mark the route, and in spring, we take all the signs out,” Wissink explained. In the early days, trails often ran on private property, including farm land. The Association took pains to ensure trails did not interfere with farm work.
The work of the Association is funded through the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Wissink said volunteers are not paid, but their hours of work are billed to the state. The Association receives reimbursement at various rates, depending on whether the person groomed trails, cleared brush, set up signs, or talked with landowners regarding permission to cross their properties.
Usually volunteers approach landowners they know about allowing the trail on their land. They also contact adjacent property owners to work out permissions and the location of the trail. “We try to stick to wooded and more natural areas versus going through plowed fields,” Wissink said. “We don’t do anything to disturb the surface of the land.”
Nearby residences are given special consideration when mapping routes. “We try to route the trail where it will be the least disruptive to the people who live in the area,” Wissink said.
Complaints occur occasionally. If the police receive one, a member of the Association visits with the landowner. “Generally, we only get a complaint if people were snowmobiling in non-trail areas, or being reckless in their operation,” Wissink said. Property owners appreciate the responsiveness of the club members. “In most cases, we’re able to get things resolved.”
Sometimes that involves talking with the offending snowmobiler. Wissink said most cooperate.
Low snowfall amounts in the past two years have made it tough to generate interest in the sport, said Larson.
Snowmobile registrations have continued to decline in the state. “When snowfall is light, people don’t renew expired registrations. They’ll wait until there’s a snow year, or they’ll give it up entirely,” said Wissink.
Larson said lower registration affects state funding for the Association, since it is based on the number of trail miles the Association maintains. Despite encroaching developments, the Association has managed to open new sections of trail.
Association dues go primarily to the Minnesota United Snowmobile Association (MNUSA). MNUSA lobbies with the state legislature regarding snowmobiling issues.
In spite of the disappointing winter weather, Larson said Association membership has grown in the past two years. He credits partnerships with local dealers and cities. “One of the dealerships in the area purchases a membership in our club for anyone that buys a snowmobile,” he said.
Wissink said the average snowmobiler is getting older. The Association promotes snowmobiling as a family sport, but there are challenges with attracting younger people. “Investing in a snowmobile is a significant cost. There are too many other opportunities for other family sport participation,” he said.
The Northwest Trails Association offers certified safety training for youth. “We want them to be out there, to be safe, and to know and follow the rules,” said Larson.
The Northwest Trail Association meets on the first Tuesday of every month at 7:30 P.M. at the Medina Entertainment Center. Prospective members do not need to own a snowmobile, Wissink said. “People join because they have a desire to promote and maintain snowmobiling not only in Maple Grove, but in the state of Minnesota.”
For more information on the Northwest Trail Association, go to www.nwtrails.net.
Both Wissink and Larson share a lifelong passion for snowmobiling. “It’s not all about zooming along, it’s about experiencing the beauty of our state,” said Larson.
The sport’s biggest challenge? “We need snow,” Wissink said.
Larson agreed. “Snow fixes everything.”