The local snowmobile trails have long been a popular destination for sledders, as they’re affectionately called. With nearly 200 kilometres of crisp trails to enjoy, it’s easy to see why.
In the early 2000s ridership on Kawartha Lakes Snowmobile Club (KLSC) trails climbed to the point where volunteers were stretched thin from trying to maintain them. Maintenance involves keeping trails clear of windfalls and repairing grooming equipment.
Fortunately, with an increase in riders came an influx of volunteers, and the club reorganized to more efficiently address the jobs that had to be done.
Now, as the club 40th anniversary just closes in 2020, club treasurer Liz Phillips says they have a consistent “push to get better.”
What was once a small organization has turned into a nationally-honoured club with more than 1,000 members.
The work has paid off. In 2004 the club received the Newsletter of the Year award from the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs and in 2005 was named top club in the province. In 2006 the KLSC earned honours as the best snowmobile club in Canada.
Phillips says the strength of the organization is its volunteers. The core are passionate snowmobilers eager to promote safe snowmobiling and protect the environment while maintaining a good public image.
She believes the secret to the club’s success is knowing the individual strengths of the membership of 1,100 to 1,400, and not being afraid to ask people to help. Phillips herself has an accounting background and signed on as treasurer after being asked to do so at her first meeting. She says when a project is proposed and members are asked to volunteer, the response is almost always positive.
Phillips says it is not unusual to count several hundred sleds using the trails in a few hours on a weekend, and when talking to fellow snowmobilers she is not averse to asking them if they would like to be involved in the club’s activities. More often than not, they agree.
That involvement could include driving the groomer, clearing fallen trees, dealing with water crossing the trails, installing markers and signage, and dozens of other unforeseen issues that come with responsibility for these vast woodland trails.
The club is keenly aware that without the cooperation of more than 40 landowners who allow snowmobiles to cross their properties, the quantity and quality of the system would be vastly different. Maintaining healthy relationships with landowners is a top priority for the executive, and partners receive an honorarium.
However, occasionally access is revoked. Such a decision was made just before the start of this season after irresponsible riders left the trail last season and damaged a farm field. As a result, trails suddenly had to be rerouted, which involved obtaining permits from the city for a construction company to excavate an area.
While the bulk of the club’s volunteer hours are spent on and around the trails, KLSC members have also hosted a Family Fun Ride for the past 20 years. Sponsored by as many as 130 local businesses, the rides raised money for the Salvation Army, Women’s Resources, the Lindsay Boys and Girls Club and local school breakfast programs. At least $3,000 was donated after each event.
Phillips expects this will be a banner year for snowmobiling in the Kawarthas. With so many people staying home during the pandemic she anticipates an uptick in snowmobiling like the ones we saw with boating and ATV use in the summer. Already, used snowmobiles on are selling quickly and frequently online for more than the asking price, and dealers locally and across Canada are having trouble keeping up with demand for new sleds.
She goes on to say that empty nesters who snowmobiled in their youth are coming back to the sport and finding things have changed significantly. Snowmobile suspensions, overall reliability and fuel economy are greatly improved, and the advent of heated hand grips, and battery-powered heated boots, jackets and mitts have increased rider comfort dramatically.
Many restaurants, hotels and inns, gas stations have clued in that snowmobilers are spenders looking to fill up both on food for themselves and gas for their machines at least once during the day. Signs and maps direct sledders to these amenities, and trail conditions or closures can be checked online. Further, one trail permit gets you on trails anywhere in the province.
Liz Phillips pointed out that while many things have changed, the best aspects of snowmobiling haven’t. The charm of getting outside and enjoying the scenery and local wildlife remains. Listening to the excitement in her voice as she describes riding through the Pinery north of Burnt River in untouched powder as the sun peeks through snow-covered boughs is enough to make anyone want to take a ride.