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December 11, 2012

Take a safety course, steer clear of thin ice during waiting period

MADISON - The recent snowfall probably has snowmobilers anxious to hit the trails, but state officials caution that snow levels vary greatly across the state and they urge people to stay off the trails until local officials declare the season open.

Conservation Warden Gary Eddy, who also is the Department of Natural Resources snowmobile safety administrator, says what little snow fell prior to the latest snowfall had mostly disappeared so there was not any base built up for the recent snowfall and that what ice has formed on lakes is not safe nor strong enough to support a human or vehicle.

Snowmobile enthusiasts must wait for the trail opening decision by the local units of government -- usually counties. According to the Wisconsin Department of Tourism Snow conditions report (exit DNR), as of Tuesday trails were only open or partially open in a few northern counties.

"Snowmobilers who ride on trails before they are declared open may unintentionally cause problems," Eddy said, adding he understands how the first snowfall is a hard one to resist. But it is crucial to honor the local decision. "There are land-use agreements between landowners and snowmobile clubs to consider. Riding on trails before they are legally open could cause property damage and ultimately could result in the trail being closed for all. Riders also put themselves in danger because some of these trails may not yet have been inspected for hazards such as low hanging branches or closed gates and cables."

"In addition to preparing their snowmobiles for winter, riders should prepare themselves as well. All operators at least age 12 and born on or after Jan. 1, 1985 are required to be certified in Snowmobile Safety Education. Operators turning age 27 this January must have a valid safety certificate," Eddy said

A list of the upcoming classes can be found on the DNR website. Go to and search keyword, snowmobile.

Diane Conklin, snowmobile trails grant manager for the Department of Natural Resources, says most agreements allow for the trails to open by early December. However, there are other factors that are used.

"Snow, standing crops and weather conditions can dictate the actual opening date which is announced by county officials," Conklin said.

Other factors used to determine the opening include frozen ground conditions, temperature, trail preparation and grooming by snowmobile club volunteers statewide.

Eddy says snowmobilers must have permission to ride on private property off the trails. "If you get the permission to ride, that's fine. However, you'll need to use a high degree of caution because the terrain may be rough and hazards such as ditches, farm equipment and rocks may be hidden under the snow."

Snowmobile trail information can be found through county snowmobile coordinators, park and recreation officials, local snowmobile clubs, local chambers of commerce and on the Snow conditions report (exit DNR) on the Wisconsin Department of Tourism Travel Wisconsin website.

Wisconsin ranks among the top states in providing snowmobile trails. DNR provides nearly $6 million in grants annually to maintain more than 18,700 miles of trails in the state, Conklin said.

FOR MORE INFORMATION CONTACT: Gary Eddy - 608-267- 7455 or Diane Conklin - 715-822-8583

Last Revised: Tuesday, December 11, 2012

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