ANGOLA — So far this year there has been one arrest of an individual who was snowmobiling on the Potawatomi Snowmobile Trail when it wasn’t open.
And members of the non-profit Potawatomi Snowmobilers don’t want it that way. They prefer that visitors to Steuben County and local snowmobilers alike would use the trail only when it is open, which it hasn’t been at all this year. It takes a base of 4-inches of snow to open the 28-mile trail.
“We could lose it, then we wouldn’t have any place to ride,” said Micci Hoffer, a longtime member of the snowmobile club and trail volunteer.
If people ride on the trail when it is not officially open, it is considered trespassing. On Thursday, the official snowfall amount on the ground in Angola was 3 inches, the National Weather Service said.
The snowmobile club has been in existence since the mid-1980s when it used to work in cooperation with the Indiana Department of Natural Resources to maintain and pay for the trail.
The trail is now a partnership between the club and local landowners who lease their land for use as part of the trail system. Landowners include farmers, owners of large expanses of land and even Steuben County government.
“I have been an avid snowmobiler for over 40 years. I am proud of the fact that I can facilitate the snowmobile trail through my properties and enjoy helping maintain them for a sport that I am passionate about,” said Randy Strebig, who leases land to the club in the Lake James area. “It’s important for the snowmobilers to know, however, that when the trail is closed and you ride on it you’re trespassing. I find this occurrence very frustrating as a stakeholder and property owner. While I understand that ground will eventually heal from the damage and I have yet to see a significant loss in winter crops when the farm is planted in wheat, the point is when the trail is closed that needs to be respected.”
In a winter like this one, with little snow, some people — usually local people — will jump on the trails on a moment’s notice when they shouldn’t.
“People see snow on it and they take off, but they tear up the base,” Hoffer said.
That’s why there needs to be a total of 4-inches of snow on the ground before the trail can open.
“That’s 4 inches of total snow, not necessarily new snow,” Hoffer said.
Chris Shook, the club’s president, is also the trail master and determines when the trail will be open. People can look up the club’s Facebook page, where a “trail open” sign will be posted when they’re open and a “trail closed” when it is closed.
People can also call the Steuben County Sheriff’s Department to inquire about the trail’s status.
The club is funded by memberships, with rates for singles, families and corporate entities. The money helps pay for leases with landowners. The club also holds events that also bring in revenue that it also uses to help support local charitable causes.
Maintenance of the trails is done by a volunteer force that makes sure the base is proper and that signage is accurate and visible.
“We’ve been working hard to improve the trails. We want them safe and we like to keep them that way,” Hoffer said.
Not only is the trail available to local snowmobile enthusiasts, but to those who travel to Steuben County to ride.
“We like the idea that we have a trail so it brings people to the community,” Hoffer said. “We have people from all over who come here.”
“If you enjoy this community asset that happens through volunteers and community cooperation please respect the closed trail condition, be a good steward of the trail and encourage others to do the same to preserve the rights to use the land when its open,” Strebig said.
In addition to the trail, people are allowed to ride on the county road rights-of-way. People may only ride on private property that is not part of the trail system with the permission of the landowner.
Hoffer reminded people to stay off the Steuben County Multipurpose Trail. Also, no wheeled vehicles are allowed on the trail.