GENOA – The Genoa-Kingston Trailblazers snowmobile club is looking for new members, and almost anyone can join.
“I don’t even own a snowmobile,” said Jeff Petersen of Sycamore. “I will probably rent one when we go on outings.”
Petersen said he joined the club because he likes to travel with the group to places like Wisconsin and the Rocky Mountains, and for him renting a snowmobile makes more economic sense.
The social and travel aspects of snowmobiling are two of many reasons people join the Trailblazers, the only active snowmobiling club in DeKalb County. The club, which was established in 1974, teaches safety courses, establishes and maintains snowmobile trails, advocates for snowmobilers’ rights in Springfield and Washington, performs emergency rescues during snowstorms, and provides maps and other publications to the snowmobiling public.
“Our main goal is to make it a safe form of family recreation,” said Jay Schaack of Cherry Valley, president of the Trailblazers. The group regularly conducts safety seminars, which are required for children 16 and younger to operate a snowmobile, and it also provides riders an incentive to always ride safely.
“We have always said, ‘Don’t ride alone,’” said Schaack. “We’re in a club so you can always find someone to ride with you.”
Snowmobilers don’t just help each other - they also help stranded motorists, and assist police and first responders who need to get through the snow. Schaack sprung into action during the blizzard of 2011.
“I pulled 11 people out (of their vehicles) between Monroe Center and Kirkland,” Schaack said. Armed with a backpack full of hats, mittens, granola bars and water, he transported the stranded motorists to a relative’s house in the area until road crews could dig out their snow-bound vehicles.
There are 26 families who belong to the club, but Schaack said that the club has had as many as 50 member families in the past.
The group’s most labor-intensive undertaking is the annual preparation of the 35 to 40 miles of snowmobile trails on public and private land in DeKalb County. The trails are regulated by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, and are available for anyone to use, whether they belong to a snowmobile club or not.
The trails open to snowmobilers on Dec. 15, but in order to use them there must be at least four inches of snow on the ground if the ground is frozen, or at least six inches of accumulation if the ground is not frozen.
“If it wasn’t for the snowmobile clubs there would be no trails,” said Heath Strohacker of Sycamore, who snowmobiles with his wife, Cortney, and their two children. He has helped maintain the trails every year for 10 or 12 years.
“We are trying to get away from using anything but (standard) snowmobile signs,” Schaack told the group in November as they planned the trail maintenance day. Sign placement and appearance are important factors in preventing snowmobile accidents, especially in areas where the trails cross public roads or span across the territories of two different clubs.
“We want to get all the clubs uniform in regards to marking trails,” he added.
Many of the local trails connect to trails maintained by clubs in Hampshire, Marengo, Elburn, Belvidere, and Elgin. Strohacker said that many snowmobilers will ride from town to town and stop at a bar or a restaurant to eat, and mingle with snowmobilers from other areas.
There are 2,500 miles of snowmobile trails in Illinois, 2,250 of which are on private land. Private landowners are absolved of liability from snowmobilers who use the trails on their land.