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Snowmobile clubs beginning to open trails

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After a difficult 2012 season, local snowmobile clubs are gearing up for what they hope is a better 2013.

Trails have started to open in the Owen Sound area after snow over the weekend left parts of Grey and Bruce counties with more of the white stuff than they received all of last year.

“We are absolutely hoping for a better year this year. We have definitely put in an order for snow,” said Karen Buratynski, administrator with the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs, which covers an area that includes all of Grey and Bruce counties and the northern parts of Perth, Huron and Wellington counties. There are 29 not-for-profit clubs in the district that oversee about 3,400 kilometres of trails.

Buratynski said there are people waiting to purchase their trail passes to make sure the trails actually open, but she said the clubs have been trying to encourage people to purchase their passes early.

She said there is a misconception that because no one was able to ride last year, the clubs have a lot of money in the bank.

“The reality is that they don’t. The majority of the money from trail permits go to cover our overhead costs, which are there whether the trails are open or not,” said Buratynski. “Things like groomer loan payments, insurance, all the work for the trails and the purchasing of the signs and stakes are done in the summer and in the fall months before the first flake even flies.”

“We know it was a rotten year last year. It was for us as well, including for the hundreds of volunteers who put the hundreds of hours in,” said Buratynski, adding because of the lack of snow clubs didn’t get to run their annual fundraisers including poker runs, chili nights and wing nights, which help offset deficits many face.

“We are starting to get ready to go. There are definitely some trails open, limited availability, in District 9,” said Buratynski. “What (limited availability) means is that they are open for marginal snowmobiling, but that extra caution is still advised because it is still pretty early in the season for us.”

Some Grey-Bruce trails open in late December some years, but Buratynski said most open in mid-January, with Mother Nature and whether there’s a strong base determining how long the season runs.

Buratynski said conditions have been ideal for building a good base. Cold temperatures before much snow fell allowed frost to get into the ground.

“I think we are ramping up for a really good season,” said Buratynski.

The main rail trail that runs the length of Grey County from Owen Sound to Shelburne is among those now open with limited availability. In the Owen Sound area, connecting trails to the Best Western Inn on the Bay and to the 16th St. E. fuel, dining and shopping areas were open Monday.

In southern Grey County there is access from the main trail to some secondary trails in the Grey Highlands and Blue Mountains areaswith limited availability. More trails are open further east.

“The last few little bits of snow we have gotten, those to the east have been fortunate to get a little bit more than we have,” said Buratynski.

A rail trail west of the city that runs from Benallen through Shallow Lake to Hepworth has also been opened. Buratynski said Monday they hope to open more trails in that area soon.

“The clubs are all out making sure their stakes and signs are all up and are all correct and they are starting to groom,” said Buratynski.

Clubs may be grooming, but Buratynski emphasized that doesn’t mean all the trails are open. She said the snow needs to be groomed before trails are opened to pack it down and let the frost get in and create a good, solid base.

“Then it is great for more snow to fall on and to open up the trails,” said Buratynski. “At this point it is a lot of pre-grooming and it doesn’t mean that section of trail is open yet. Riders riding on a trail that isn’t properly prepared can do more harm to it than anything.”

Buratynski asked that riders check out the OFSC website at www.ofsc.on.ca, which includes an interactive map showing which trails are open, before heading out. The website also has links to clubs and their outlets where permits can be purchased. The District 9 office in Markdale can be reached at 1-800-387-7669.

While last year was a difficult one, Buratynski said it was far from the norm, with this area known for its abundance of snow and an extensive trail network that offers many different options.

“We are the only trails in the province where you can ride the escarpment with beautiful rocky scenery, to bush trail, to open farmers’ fields, a natural corridor,” said Buratynski. “It is an extremely diverse trail system and it is an extensive trail system. You can ride is District 9 for weeks and not cover the same trail twice.”

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