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Outdoors: Grant enhances winter trail grooming

Volunteers Bob Montebello uses a new snowmobile and roller followed by Les Peterson using a new sled and Ginzo (tracker) to groom the Montebello Trail Tuesday. A grant allowed the Bemidji Cross Country Ski Club to buy five new sleds, grooming equipment and two new trailers Pioneer Photo/Monte Draper

A Neilson Foundation matching grant allowed the Bemidji Cross Country Ski Club to purchase five Ski Doo Skandic sleds, new grooming equipment and two new trailers.

"I've been told we have the best grooming equipment in the state," said Bob Montibello, member of the club and organizer of trail grooming.

Last February, the ski club was made aware of a Federal Grant for equipment for non-highway user groups, with a stipulation of local matching funds. A list was compiled and a grant of $62,000 was awarded to the club from the Neilson Foundation. This grant opened the door to the same amount in federal funds.

"What tipped the scale with the Neilson Foundation was the strength of our club, their willingness to volunteer a lot of time and energy," said Montebello. "I give them a lot of credit for there continued faith in our club."

According to Montebello, last year about 15 groomers volunteered close to 1,000 hours to groom the local cross country trails. This doesn't account for the fall preparation of trails which amounts to more than 500 hours.

"All this took a lot of coordination," he said. "Mark Walters put in 100 hours getting the equipment ready and adapting the equipment. It wouldn't happen if you didn't have someone to spearhead the project."

Walters did the research and found the special grooming equipment in Montana but purchased the sleds through Lakeland Motor Sports, the trailers through Bluewater Bait and all the specialized welding by JC Custom Welding.

Walters said the crates arrived in late September. His first hurdle was where to store them. His friends at Kal's Building Supplies stepped up to help.

The first task was the thousands of bolts required to put the grooming equipment together, and then rewiring the sleds to be compatible with the grooming gear.

"The guys at Lakeland were phenomenal," said Walters. "They were patient, awesome at tucking and hiding and placing the switches in the right spots.

"Our whole emphasis was to be universal," he said. "Everything we own, each sled and groomer, is compatible with each other. We even rewired our existing equipment. If some equipment breaks downs we can slide another sled or groomer over and they work together."

Montebello said the groomers will be stored in clusters close to the areas they are needed. No longer will there be one trail groomed at a time. The two big Sherpa sleds will be used at Movil Maze and Buena Visa because of the terrain.

"This means, better communications, quicker grooming, better grooming, and it takes the pressure off of the groomers," said Walters

On Dec. 13, Walters held a clinic on grooming with 18 volunteers learning the new equipment.

"So far no glitches," he said.

Bemidji has seven cross country trails within a 15 mile radius. New is the Fern Lake Trail, and last week, the Bemidji High School trail was added to the Grant and Aid list.