Langlade County Snowmobile Council President Dan Henningfeld calls it “liquid gold.”
The heavy snows that fell last week, and the on and off flurries predicted for much of the next week, may have come in time to save a snowmobile season that had been hobbled by wild swings in temperatures and a drought of the white stuff.
“Everyone is just breathing a sign of relief,” Mike McDougal of the Deerbrook Bridge Runners Snowmobile Club, which hosted its annual Classic Cruise this past Saturday, said. “It gets pretty cold up here in the northwoods with no recreation.”
After a flirtation with open trails in the northern sections of the county in early January, the system closed down after a substantial thaw just two weeks later. Northern trails reopened a week ago and the entire system was declared good to go on Saturday.
Businesses across the trail system saw an instant response.
“It definitely helped,” Ken Mikkelson of Walleye Lodge on Rolling Stone Lake says. “We didn’t have anything going before the snow.”
Mikkelson says that his four winterized cabins largely sat empty for the early winter, prompting him to wonder if he should just closed them down for the season, but now that the snow has returned “we’re booked up pretty much into March.”
“Everyone is a lot happier,” he adds. “They all just want to have some fun now.”
To the north, Beth Reinemann, community director for the Pelican Lake Chamber of Commerce, said restaurants and night spots reported their “best weekend of the season” following the trail opening.
“Riders have been telling us that the trails are in very good shape right now,” Reinemann says. “The Sno-Devil’s Snowmobile Club (based in Elcho) is doing a great job on them.”
Pelican Lake is in Oneida County, but Langlade’s opening had an extremely positive effect, she says.
“Hopefully the trails will be good for the next few weekends as well,” she adds.
Even businesses that are not directly impacted by snowmobile riders get a bump from the trails.
Dave Visser, who operates Builders Service in Elcho, says the entire community gets a boost when people are enjoying the trails and coming to town.
“You can definitely tell when the trails are open, there is more traffic everywhere in town,” he says.
Many Langlade County snowmobilers own cottages, Visser explains, and when the trails are closed, they simply don’t make the trip north. That has a ripple effect across the community.
“And if the bars and restaurant owners are doing well, they turn around and support the rest of the businesses,” he says.
The last-minute opening did create some concerns. McDougal says that numbers were down on the Classic Cruise simply because people didn’t know the trails would be open, and made other plans, and Deena Grabowsky of the Antigo/Langlade County Chamber of Commerce says that her office is fielding more and more phone calls, many from out of state, along with requests for trail maps and information on accommodations, once the opening became official.
“We’re getting mounds of phone calls now,” she says. “I’m happy to be able to tell people that everything is open. It’s been a long haul these last few winters but right now everyone is happy, visitors and the locals.”
Tammy Kubiaczyk, recreation coordinator for the county, says the decision to open or close trails is not made lightly, with the concerns of landowners “first and foremost” along with the condition of the trails and the amount of snow.
“If the temperatures stay cool and the snow stays on the trails, we’ll be good for a while,” she says.
Hennigfeld says that businesses across the region are becoming aware of the positive effect snowmobilers have on businesses across the region.
“Everyone is just ecstatic right now,” he says.
Snowmobile Trails in Langlade County are developed and maintained by the Langlade County Forestry and Recreation Department and 11 different snowmobile clubs.
There are over 530 miles of state approved and user funded snowmobile trails.