While there are a number of great and snowy spaces in North Dakota for snowshoers and cross-country skiers alike to tromp or skate about, area enthusiasts will also now be able to enjoy themselves more close to home.
Resuming a tradition interrupted by flood damage and a lengthy recovery process, maintenance personnel with Minot Park District last week began making pathways available for such usage throughout the winter. So long as there is enough snow on the ground, the trails they groom will be better maintained than in the past now that the department has better equipment at its disposal.
A John Deere utility four-wheeler maintenance lately acquired has been fitted with snow tracks and a proper hitch for the groomer, so should not be as prone to becoming bogged down in the slush and fluff. It even boasts a heated cab. Before the 2011 flood, staff had to rig together a grooming device to a snowmobile, which often would get sunk into the snow and be a pain to extricate.
Inside Minot Park District’s new maintenance four-wheeler, Mike Chrest and Larry Meyer groom trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing Thursday at Oak Park. Pathways have also been cleared at Bison Plant Trail and Souris Valley Golf Course, and will be maintained for usage throughout the winter.
"It sounds like it works really well," said Brian Mattson, maintenance head for the park district. Park employees began grooming trails for skiing and snowshoeing on Thursday, once a bout of stormy weather let up. Paths have been prepared at Oak Park, Souris Valley Golf Course, and Bison Plant Trail, the latter of which was widened, resurfaced and cleared of brush earlier this year.
"I think Bison Plant will also be a really great trail for people to use this year," said Elly DesLauriers, the park district's marketing and development director. A more formal grand opening for the refurbished trail will be held next spring.
"Whenever they can get out there," park staff will be prepping trails for use, DesLauriers went on, "every Friday before the weekend and after it snows." Friday will be the definite day for regrooming, but staff indicated that they would like to touch pathways up at least twice a week.
Of the three locations, the trails at Souris Valley should pose more of a challenge to maintain, with greater exposure to strong winds causing drifts and generally mussing things up. But at the more tree-shielded Oak Park, personnel will be able to groom paths doubly wide to allow skiers to travel in pairs if they like.
"We're pretty excited about what we can do here," said longtime skier and snowshoe enthusiast, Glee Mayer. A member of several wintry sporting groups, earlier this year she approached the parks department with trail ideas for the coming season.
"They were so receptive," Mayer recalled. "I was just excited when I left (their offices) in October."
She and Mattson scouted out possible routes in October, trying to plot them away from high-traffic areas or equipment-scarring pavement. Cars, park strollers and playing children pose a hazard to groomed ski trails as much as wind might do.
"I don't want kids to stop playing," said Mayer, which is why they tried to keep their trails as much out of the way as possible. Maps of this year's routes are available on the park website at (minotparks.com/minottrails.html).
More mobile than foot traffic, snowmobiles and other winter rec vehicles can still be a headache. While it is illegal for them to be operated in Oak Park, keeping them off of the golf course and Bison Plant can be more difficult.
"I don't believe it's ever intentional," Mayer said of the occasional overlap.
"We'll be adding signs," DesLauriers had explained, in addition to letting people know through word-of-mouth that such vehicles will not be allowed on the trails. She explained that as long as they get used often, it should be evident to snowmobilers and the like that the trails are there for cross-country purposes. Still, problems can be referred to the park office at 857-4136.
"We have a lot of winter in North Dakota, and it's just awful to sit inside," Mayer said. In addition to being able to get out of the house and exercise, she enjoys the social aspects of both activities as well.
"There's a lot of other people in the community interested in cross-country skiing," she explained. One group she has helped start up is called the "Sno Folk," an informally organized bunch that both ski and shoe together. They can be contacted through their Facebook page, and at some point this season would like to host a "stomp day," which Mayer described as being a sort of open house where newcomers can learn how to snowshoe.
She recommends the activity for beginners, because the equipment is comparatively less expensive than skiing. And once strapped to one's boots, a person is ready to amble virtually anywhere.