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Trailblazer: Miller has unique view of winter atop his groomer

There is plenty of comfort and room inside the trail groomer driven by Roy Miller, who helps maintain the trails for the North Country Snowmobile Club. — Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer1 / 3
Trail groomer Roy Miller periodically needs to stop and remove debris from the hood of the machine. — Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer2 / 3
Volunteer groomer Roy Miller rounds a corner while packing the snowmobile trails along the southern section of the area trail system. — Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer 3 / 3

From his perch atop the snowmobile trail groomer, Roy Miller of Bemidji is in the ideal position to observe the area’s forest, fields and swamps during the winter months.

And he likes what he sees.

“One time I saw a wolf near Wilton and last week by Potlatch on County Road 9 I saw three turkeys,” Miller said. “I often see deer, at least deer that are running away from me, but most of the time when you groom you see the deer tracks. And you see more tracks in Bemidji than you do in the woods.”

Snowmobilers based in Bemidji can follow trails that extend in every direction and provide access to all locations in northern Minnesota.

Miller operates one of five machines used on the Bemidji area’s snowmobile trails. He said the group of about a dozen groomers has been busy since that first heavy snowfall in January.

“My territory is the City of Bemidji and to the east,” said Miller, who works on behalf of North Country Snowmobile club, said. “I go to Walker, Cass Lake, the Power Dam and Concordia Language Camp areas as well. There are times when I’ve spent more than 12 hours in the groomer.”

Miller’s associates also groom the trails near Lake Plantagenet, Debs, Turtle River, the Highway 2 corridor and south to Becida.

They hit the trails as soon as ample snow cover arrives and they will continue to hop on their groomers until the weather turns too warm.

Miller expects that time to arrive very soon.

“Every groomer knows when to go and when not to go,” Miller said. “On Wednesday I woke up at 3 a.m. and saw that it was 15 degrees, so I went. If it would have been 30 degrees I wouldn’t have gone.

“When the temperature is too warm the snow sticks to the drag and you can’t groom. And at this time of the year you have to be out before the sun comes up because the sun is pretty powerful,” Miller added.

Miller would classify this winter as typical. There was very little snow early in the season but when it finally did arrive there was more than enough to satisfy the snowmobilers.

“The snowmobile season begins in December and ends in March but I don’t think there have been four or five times when I could groom in December,” said Miller, who started riding a snowmobile in 1969 and started grooming the trails after retiring from his Bemidji sanitation post in 1998.

“The last time I remember grooming in December was 2005. We just don’t get enough snow that early in the winter.”

Miller, 72, sold his snowmobile two years ago but by riding the trails atop his groomer he is able to continue enjoying the winter and what it has to offer.

“I enjoy being outside and being in the woods,” Miller, who is an avid fisherman during the summer months, said. “When you are on the groomer you travel about five miles per hour so you have time to see what’s out there.

“Snowmobilers waive to us. You meet people walking their dogs and you meet skiers. And I enjoy that.”

Pat Miller

Pat Miller is the sports editor at the Pioneer.

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