By Carol Stiffler
Longtime groomers of snowmobile trails in the Curtis area say they’re no longer welcome in the grooming club after the Curtis Chamber of Commerce changed locks on the groomer barn and didn’t give them a key.
Chamber Vice President Mary Gowan said only one groomer was asked to stop volunteering his service, and didn’t want to disparage the man by naming him. Other groomers would have been given guided access to the barn if they had asked a chamber official to open the building for them, she said.
The situation seems to have begun brewing in March, when the Curtis Groomers club launched plans for a 300-ticket snowmobile raffle. Tickets were sold for $100 each and were fully purchased by some time in May.
Groomer Ross Abraham filed for the raffle license in the name of the Curtis Chamber of Commerce, which holds the required non-profit status, with the state of Michigan. Chamber President Mick Treiber and Treasurer Bud Chamberlin also signed the form requesting the raffle license, which Abraham received at his home about eight days later.
He spear-headed the raffle efforts, which brought in $30,000. About half that was used to purchase the prized snowmobile, a 2023 Ski-Doo, and the other half went into the groomers’ fund. Abraham was barred from continuing work on the raffle and for the groomers in November.
The snowmobile drawing was held in the groomer barn on December 3, and Abraham was not inside. His mother’s name was drawn on the winning ticket.
That was unexpected, Abraham said. His mother bought one ticket to support her son’s efforts. “I told her not to,” Abraham said. “She said it was just her contribution.” Now, some are calling it karma, and when his mother picked up her sled last weekend, a “karma” sticker had been placed on the windshield by someone familiar with the situation.
As the sledding season approaches, concern surrounding the Curtis trails and groomer situation were at least partly what prompted members of the local Michigan Department of Natural Resources office to attend a meeting with the chamber on Thursday, December 8.
The trails need to be cleared of brush and fully marked with signs prior to the start of the season, work that the groomer club would have expected to do and Abraham said would have completed by now.
The chamber is now contracting with Fred Burton of Gould City. Burton attended an evening meeting at the groomer barn later on Thursday to establish work committees with new volunteers. They anticipated being able to inventory the needed work on Monday, following the close of the muzzleloader deer hunting season.
The Curtis area trails open in stages, with the first technically opening up on December 1 though a lack of snow made sledding impossible. Others can open on December 15, and the last can open on January 1 due to various hunting seasons.
The dispute is hard on the Curtis community.
“This is tearing the town apart,” said Dave Dietz, who attended the chamber meeting and later spoke at an assembly at the Erickson Center for the Arts on Thursday.
Abraham defended himself at the assembly, saying the raffle was run properly and all ticket sales and funds are accounted for in detail.
Gowan acknowledged that the Curtis Chamber of Commerce seeks to support local businesses and help bring in those coveted winter guests who have enjoyed the Curtis area trails for years. The chamber and groomer club have been a team for years, Gowan said, with the chamber overseeing the finances and paperwork of the club.
“It’s always been governed by the chamber,” she said. “It’s supposed to be a team working together for the community. And in the last 12 months, the team has started to separate and it has gone further down that road.”
Gowan said the chamber’s new plan, under the management of Gould City’s Burton, has the full approval of the DNR, and is certain the trails will be ready in time for the winter sledding season.