The November floods and low snowfall early in the winter have teamed up to create some dangerous areas for snowmachiners in the Caribou Hills.
Members of the Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers snowmobile club have been working on weekends to repair trails damaged by the November floods. Those members say there is still a lot of work ahead.
"We've been fighting the weather all winter," said Steve Crane, the club's president. "The damage from the floods was tremendous."
Downed trees are the most numerous of the obstacles they have encountered.
"The bulk of what we've done has been clearing trees by hand and with chainsaws," Crane said.
Mike Wichman, the club's activities chair, said they have almost completely cleared the deadfall from the Clam Gulch and Centennial trails.
Washouts also are causing problems.
"There's still a lot of ditches out there, some of which are 15 to 20 feet wide and 10 to 15 feet deep," said Crane. "A lot of them you can't see until you're right up on them, so it's really dangerous."
The club has marked off some of the particularly bad trails. Below the Water Hole close to a half mile of trail was lost.
"They (drop-offs) could severely injure or kill someone who hits one," said member Howard Davis in reference to the washouts.
Work details have been going out on weekends for months to repair damaged trails and to perform reconnaissance for other hazardous areas.
"We've spent quite a bit of time and money improving the washouts," Davis said.
The club used $7,500 to bring in heavy machinery to repair the trails. Funds came from various club raffles, pull tabs and the SNO-TRACK and TRAAK grants. SNO-TRACK is the money pooled from snowmachine registration and TRAAK comes from the federal road tax on fuel used by all-terrain vehicles.
Trails which snowmachine enthusiasts may be familiar with, such as Straight In, Gravel Pit and 126, have all been worked on.
"We worked on Falls Creek trail this past weekend, but there's still more to do there," Davis said.
"It's still bad in a lot of places, but the ground's frozen so we can't do much more with it now," Wichman said.
Many bridges also were lost in the floods and work has been done to address this issue. Recently, the club put in a temporary bridge on 126 trail to replace one that was destroyed.
All of the flood damage is further compounded by the unseasonably warm temperatures and below average snowfall amounts.
"There's still open water in many creeks, rivers and other areas," Crane said. "We're seeing water in places we've never even seen it before."
The snow has been minimal and powdery, many club members complained. They are all keeping their fingers crossed and hoping for a big snowfall soon.
"There's probably only about 16 inches of snow in the hills now and that packs down to about an inch (when the machines are on it)," Wichman said.
The club would like to begin filling ditches and grooming trails, but until more snow falls there's nothing they can do.
The club advises anyone using the trails to use extreme caution and "ride with your head, not your throttle."
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