Weather hampers snowy funWhen members of the Superior-Douglas County Tavern League met Wednesday, the forecast was bleak.
By: Maria Lockwood, Superior Telegram
When members of the Superior-Douglas County Tavern League met Wednesday, the forecast was bleak.
“Boy, people are having a tough time,” said Dan Corbin, league president.
The lack of snow has delayed the start of the snowmobile season by nearly a month. Sledders come to Wisconsin from all over the country, said Chris Farmer, president of the Jackpine Riders Snowmobile/ATV Club in Solon Springs. Snowmobiling is nearly a $6 billion industry in Wisconsin, he said. It affects power sports dealers, gas stations, motels, restaurants, taverns and more. Without the influx of riders, it’s been a lean year for many businesses.
In a typical winter, about 600 snow machines would have stopped by the Lookout Tavern in Wascott already.
“We’re kind of a destination spot,” said Tom Neubauer, who owns the Lookout with his wife, Linda. “We boast one of the best views in Douglas County.” The business is situated on a hill overlooking the St. Croix flowage. Not a single snowmobile has stopped in to see the view this winter
“When we don’t have snow, it really impacts us — other businesses too,” Neubauer said.
The first snowmobile of the season stopped by Midland Services in Brule on Thursday.
“It was pretty exciting, really,” said Manager Judy Stone. Snow was falling as she spoke. If enough accumulates, Stone said, die-hard enthusiasts may pull out their snowmobiles and go for a ride. That would be good news for Kathy and Marty Guzior, who own Brule River Motel and Campground.
“It’s a bad year for us so far,” Kathy Guzior said. Many bookings have been canceled due to the snowless trails. Even lower rates, package deals with other Brule businesses and the occasional snow dance aren’t helping.
“All we can do is hope,” Guzior said.
Business at Midland Services has been slow without the usual winter recreation enthusiasts — snowmobilers and skiiers.
“The weekend is usually our busiest time,” Stone said. “This year the week is the busiest. The locals are what’s keeping us going.”
Even if snow falls, it will take area snowmobile club members time to groom the trails for sledding.
“Because we haven’t even started yet, we’re looking at two weeks just to get our trails in shape,” Farmer said.
Club volunteers maintain 301 miles of trails in Douglas County. They clear the trails of downed trees, pack snow down with groomers and maintain signage. A July windstorm left the trails around Solon Springs littered with trees. Farmer estimated he spent 100 hours on the club tractor in July cleaning up the damage; other members did the same. The work is worth it to these snowmobile enthusiasts. The trails provide an opportunity to see the scenic beauty of Douglas County’s forests.
“When you drive by on the freeway, you don’t know what you have in your backyard,” Farmer said. “That’s where the beauty of the sport comes from.” For him, nothing beats the view of snow-capped evergreens and sunlight reflecting colors in the snow.
There are still plenty of outdoor activities available in Douglas County. Ice fishing is going strong on Lake Amnicon. Corbin, who owns Corbin’s Harbor Inn in Amnicon, said the ice is 12- to 14-inches thick and perfectly clear. Fishermen stop by the inn to pick up bait, have a drink or get something to eat. But Corbin estimated business is still down about 20 percent. He hasn’t had to scale back hours or go down to just a few days a week, but other area taverns have.
Fishing on the bay is touch and go right now, according to Clyde Waltnbaugh, sales associate for Northwest Outlet in Superior.
“We have a lot of guys who haven’t been out yet,” he said. But he’s heard of fishing taking place on Lake Minnesuing and in Solon Springs.
Friday, county trails opened up for ATV use. While the trails are free of deadfalls and properly signed, Corbin said, they can still be treacherous. There’s no packed snow to buffer the big bumps and swampy areas, so riders are urged to use caution.
The warm weather, which hit all-time highs in Duluth four times in the past two weeks, is affecting just about every winter sport.
Valerie Kozlovsky of Brule is a skiing enthusiast. During a typical winter, she enjoys daily trips around her 40-acre property. This year, she’s gone twice.
“My husband and I are going back to hiking,” Kozlovsky said.
In Superior, residents and visitors alike can enjoy winter hiking on the entire Millennium Trail. The portion of trail that is converted for cross-country skiing use hasn’t opened for the season. A good 8-10 inches of snow is needed to pack down for a good ski trail base.
“We need a big snowstorm in order to get these trails open,” Morgan said.
The sale of ski passes can net the city up to $6,000 annually. So far this winter, they’ve sold one.
The kids at Gizty Wicklund’s day care in Solon Springs have been able to find all their outdoor toys due to the lack of snow. When the road is dry, they can even ride their bikes. But, Wicklund said, they’re more than ready for some of the fluffy white stuff so they can pack it into snow forts and snow balls.
“We tried a snowman and it went nowhere,” she said.
Skating rinks in Superior opened last Friday.
“We did in fact have participants this weekend,” Morgan said. Cold weather blew in Wednesday, giving city crews a chance to repair the rinks.
Usually, the rinks open the first day of Christmas vacation, Morgan said. The late opening date this year meant less income for recreation program monitors who run the skating shacks. But it could have been worse.
“We’ve started as late as Jan. 10,” Morgan said.
Waltenbaugh said he’s seen parents and children out on local hills, sliding despite the thin layer of snow.
“You’ve got to take the chance when you can, when there’s snow on the ground,” he said.
If the snow doesn’t come, Guzior said, visitors can still enjoy the scenic beauty of the Northland.
“You can still do sightseeing; the weather is great,” she said.
Heating bills are down, too, Corbin said. But that’s not enough of an economic boost to make up for the lost winter sporting revenue. So he, like many others throughout the county, is waiting for snow — the more, the better.
“I’m hoping for a blizzard myself,” Farmer said.