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By Carol Stiffler

The Tahquamenon area is a playground for snowmobile riders in winter months. Traditionally, these winter guests have gathered at nearby hotels and cabins, riding the trails and passing through town in long trains of adventure seekers.

It’s part of the appeal of this area, residents know, but lately has been causing headaches as well. On Monday, the Tahquamenon Area Snowmobile Association (TASA) released a statement that proclaimed snowmobilers will no longer be able to drive through any part of the Newberry Country Club after riders refused to cooperate with paths on the course.

“Due to snowmobilers trespassing outside the borders set by Newberry Country Club there will be absolutely no riding on the golf course any longer. It will be roped off and violators will be prosecuted,” the TASA notice read.

The alert was the most recent admonition from TASA to snowmobilers to remind them to stay on marked trails and be respectful of boundaries. TASA grooms 130 miles of local trails that connect to other trails in the Tahquamenon area.

TASA President Larry Johnson Jr. describes snowmobilers as a “happy” crowd and said about 85 percent of snowmobilers ride respectfully. Another five percent make trail errors because they are inexperienced with the area, and the final 10 percent ride in defiance of expectations.

“You’re always going to have idiots,” Johnson said. “The only way you can get rid of that is more patrolling.” That’s not always possible due to financial limitations, he said.

It’s a good year for snow, Johnson said, and like in years past, he’s noticed snowmobile activity increase. Johnson, who also owns The North Store near The Wolf Inn north of Newberry, spends a very busy couple months in the winter keeping snowmobilers fueled and stocked up.

He’s also noticed a change in behavior.

“Back in the day before they didn’t have a choice: You had to look at a map,” Johnson said. “Nowadays with GPS…unless you download an app from the state that shows you what is state land and private land, you don’t know.”

Sometimes the land snowmobilers cut through is downright dangerous. For years, riders have been cutting through the Tahquamenon Area Sportsman’s Club, an active shooting range. This year, the snowmobile trail has been deliberately rerouted to travel behind the club to keep riders off the range.

In addition, there have been issues lately with snowmobiles parking too close to or getting stuck on the railroad tracks that mark the north edge of Newberry, putting sleds at risk of getting hit by oncoming trains.

The Luce County Sheriff Department has logged 50 warnings and 4 citations to snowmobile riders in the past two weeks and also had to respond to at least two emergency calls north of Newberry after reckless riders got into accidents and got injured on the trails.

Speed was a factor in both accidents, according the department.

There is no speed limit on the trails, but drivers are expected to drive at “reasonable” speeds, which can vary based on weather, trail traffic, and the condition of the trail.

“Please, please, please stay on the trail,” TASA pleaded. “Respect the signs, gates, fencing and the trails.”

Johnson knows that winter guests are a key part of the success to our local economy, and he does his best to assist riders while they’re here.

“I want them here,” he said. “In the same token, they have to be respectful to keep this sport going.”