Snowmobile Trail to NW Angle Opens Friday
Being one of the first to travel north across the massive ice of Lake of the Woods up to the NW Angle on a snowmobile to assess ice conditions can be, well, let’s just say an adventure most would gladly pass on. It is a task Gregg Hennum, owner of Sportsman’s Lodges and someone who grew up on the lake has taken on for years. Often working with seasoned ice guide, Mike Marquardt, and a host of others, they face the unknowns, taking into account a myriad of things that could go wrong while assessing the ice for what is arguably the most traveled snowmobile trail in the state.
“First off, it helps to run a reliable snowmobile,” explains Hennum with a chuckle. “We actually start out by carefully monitoring satellite photos of the lake ice. This gives us an initial idea of when the entire lake freezes over and possibly what froze up last. We then fly the lake, looking for potential problem areas, areas with stacked ice or any other nuance that might help us when actually taking sleds across.”
Mother Nature is in charge and ice conditions can vary greatly. There could easily be a foot of ice in one spot and nearby only a few inches, depending upon how the ice froze, what froze first, ice sheets that shifted during the freeze, cracks, ice upheavals, etc. She dictates when ice conditions are right to start staking and grooming the snowmobile trail across the lake connecting the south end to the NW Angle.
“Just looking at the ice tells you a lot,” says Hennum. “When we finally take sleds across, we work together, of course, for safety. It really helps to stand up while driving the snowmobile and actually look at the ice. After years of working the ice, you can tell a lot simply by looking at it. You learn to see spots that look different. When there are piles of ice, that area could have been the last to freeze. When there is jagged ice with an area that is all smooth, there is a chance that was open water longer and could very well be thinner. You can also tell areas that the waves lapped up on the ice, another sign of an area that froze later. When we find an area of thinner ice, we monitor it closely until we feel it is thick enough.”
This trail is always an important lifeline for many who travel up to the Angle. In today’s world where driving via land up to Canada requires a vaccination combined with a recent COVID test, it is more appreciated than ever having another option to travel north while staying in Minnesota and not having to cross the border.
The snowmobile trail is also a MN DNR Grants-in-Aid trail, meaning, the MN DNR participates in financing some of the maintenance of the trail. In 1973 the Minnesota Legislature delegated the responsibility of administering a cost-sharing program for the development and maintenance of snowmobile trails to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The goal of this program was the creation and maintenance of locally initiated trails that were financially assisted by the state.
This program is popularly known as the grants-in-aid—or GIA—program. The DNR has been delegated the responsibility of administering the funds appropriated by the legislature for the GIA program.
Minnesota’s GIA snowmobile trail system has grown to over 21,000 miles. The Minnesota Snowmobile Trails Assistance Program provides funding mostly for maintenance and grooming, though trail improvement grants for snowmobile trails are also available.
Maintenance and grooming grants-in-aid are awarded to local governments (often county units), referred to as the sponsor, to ensure that GIA snowmobile trails at specific times in the year are prepared and ready for use, adequately groomed, and closed at the end of the season.
Through these grants-in-aid, the DNR effectively purchases the service of well-groomed and maintained snowmobile trails.
Mother Nature is doing her part and so are the area snowmobile clubs. Starting Friday, December 17th, 2021, the groomed and staked trail going up the east side of Lake of the Woods MN across the vast ice will be open! People traveling to the Angle, ice anglers, bombardiers used for transporting people, vendors who do work up north for resorts and cabin owners all use the snowmobile trail.
The portion of the trail connecting Baudette, MN to Lake of the Woods and the Wheeler’s Point area is about 12 miles long. The trail is marked on the Rainy River once the ice is thick enough. The trail is anticipated to be marked around Christmas when ice conditions merit safe travel.
If you haven’t taken the trail in the past, black plastic poles mark the trail. The black shows up well against the white background when traveling and each pole has reflectors on the top which make them easier to spot at night. The trail is frequently groomed to make it smooth. Every year is different. Some years, it is smooth as a highway. Other years, there may be a combo of smooth with rough patches.
There is another snowmobile trail connecting the southwest corner of the lake with the Angle that skirts the Canadian border on the west side of the lake as well. This trail has an anticipated open date of Christmas reports the NW Angle Edge Riders snowmobile club on their Facebook page. Again, Mother Nature ultimately determines as temperature, wind, ice upheavals, cracks and a myriad of other factors all contribute when determining it safe to travel across via snowmobile so this could be moved up or moved back depending.
The area is fortunate to have two very active snowmobile clubs. The Lake of the Woods Drifters and the NW Angle Edge Riders. Both do a great job of maintaining and grooming trails and keep conditions up to date on their Facebook pages. The Drifters stake, groom and maintain the trails across the land on the south end of Lake of the Woods as well as the snowmobile from the Wheeler’s Point area north on Lake of the Woods to the NW Angle.
The NW Angle Edge Riders maintain the snowmobile trails across the ice up at the Angle, the land trails around the Angle and the trail across Lake of the Woods connecting the south end of the lake skirting the western border of the lake.
There are literally hundreds of miles of snowmobile trails throughout the area. Whether it is on the south end of the lake through the miles of beautiful woods or up to the NW Angle, a 42 mile ride up to the Angle resort area, there is great trail riding available throughout the area.
Ice fishing is so good and well known throughout Lake of the Woods, snowmobiling takes a back seat. In reality, the trail system, beauty and resources of area resorts are second to none. Much of the trail system used for pure snowmobilers get little use compared to other areas of the Midwest. A nice change of pace vs the cosmopolitan snowmobile areas with hundreds or even thousands of sleds.
If you like snowmobiling, a must do trip needs to be sledding up to the NW Angle. Just let others carefully check it, stake it and groom it first!