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Snowdrifters are America’s Snowmobile Club of the Year

Local group cited for volunteerism, community impact
Members of the Iowa Snowdrifters pose with their Club of the Year award from the American Council of Snowmobile Associations in August. The group won the award because of its volunteer hours and promotion of the sport. (photo courtesy Iowa Snowdrifters)

SOLON– The snow came late, but it was still a banner year for the Iowa Snowdrifters.

The area snowmobile club was the 2018 Club of the Year for the American Council of Snowmobile Associations (ACSA).

“I just want to thank club members, landowners, our sponsors– everybody, in terms of the award, made that happen,” said Bill Hogan of rural Solon, the current club president. “I’m just happy to be part of the club.”

Hogan said the club was recognized for outstanding achievement in fundraising, community projects and the dedicated efforts of the members to manage and maintain the trails.

The Iowa Snowdrifters was formed in the early 1970s by local snowmobile enthusiasts and has since developed over 240 miles of trails in Johnson, Linn, Iowa, Benton and Washington counties.

The trails extend as far west as Keystone, as far east as Lisbon and as far south as Frytown, and include Coralville Lake and Lake Macbride State Park.

“The Snowdrifters are a great club that works year round to promote our sport,” noted former Iowa State Snowmobile Association president Chris Willey.

Willey was present at the July 15 Snowdrifters meeting in rural Solon to hand over the award. ACSA is the recreational sport’s international group, mostly representing Canada and the United States. The club won the

Iowa State Snowmobile Association’s Club of the Year in 2017.

“They have one of the largest trail systems in the state,” Willey said of the local sledheads. “It takes a lot of dedication to maintain a trail system. That work happens year round and long before the snow falls.”

The club has a strong base of membership in Solon and North Liberty, but is expanding with the system, Hogan said, especially in southern Linn and northern Iowa and southern Benton County.

The Snowdrifters also coordinate their trail system with those of snowmobile clubs in surrounding counties– Sledheads trails to the south, and the Winter Warriors trails to the east, resulting in hundreds of miles of marked trails.

Those trails are established in cooperation with county engineers, using a roadside management plan to determine the best routes. Sometimes the designated routes are in the ditches, but if an obstruction exists, snowmobiles are allowed onto the road surface or shoulder for a stretch.

Occasionally, the trails cross public ground or even private property with the consent of owners. The snowmobile club carries liability insurance which, along with Iowa law, relieves private landowners of responsibility in case of accident.

“So there’s good incentive for landowners to allow us to run on their property,” Hogan noted.

Snowmobilers in general prefer not to run on paved surfaces, Hogan said.

But in the past few years, continued development of communities along the trail system as well as countywide pedestrian and bicycle trails have made things more difficult.

“Bike trails, a lot of them are running where our historical trails were,” Hogan said, citing the Mehaffey Bridge Road separated trail project currently under construction by Johnson County as an example.

The Snowdrifters also had to work around the construction of a new elementary in North Liberty, and in the past several years have seen access to Tiffin restricted by the widening of Highway 6.

“For the most part, we’ve got pretty good relationship with the cities,” he noted. “Being able to get into the different establishments, whether it be gas stations or restaurants and bars.”

There isn’t a snowmobile route through Solon; although trails connect to the community from several directions, allowing riders access to businesses downtown and on the south side.

Hogan, a native of Luxemburg near Dubuque, has been a Snowdrifters member for the last six years.

“I grew up with snowmobiling and wanted to get back into the sport,” he explained.

He had a friend who was a member, and ended up joining for the camaraderie of fellow members.

“I just enjoy the sport in general,” he said. “I enjoy riding, I enjoy the community involvement, the activities and events.

“What I like most is the people in the club,” he continued. “Working with them, having fun with them, going out riding with them.”

The Iowa Snowdrifters meets at the site of a different sponsor the second Thursday of each month at 7:30 p.m.

The club has averaged about 100 members, but Hogan would like to see that grow.

“When you look at the number of registered snowmobiles in the area, we’re only the tip of the iceberg as far as who’s out there,” he said.

And there’s plenty of work to spread around, from the hundreds of hours it takes to prepare, mark and maintain the trails to the fundraisers and community services projects the group undertakes.

The Snowdrifters’ largest fundraiser of the year, the BigTown ShowDown Truck and Tractor Pull, is held every August at Hawkeye Downs in Cedar Rapids.

The event helps finance annual scholarships, community donations and trail maintenance.

“We’re able to purchase a lot of our own equipment instead of relying on state funds,” Hogan stated.

Trails need to be frequently groomed for safe, fun riding. The snow gets packed down, and snowmobiles need powdery snow to keep their tracks properly conditioned.

The club owns two large groomers used to gather the snow from the built-up berms along the sides to the center of the trail, churn it up and lay it, flat and level, across the route.

Multiple mowers are used for fall preparation to mow the grass and tall weeds down.

“It allows the snow to settle in,” he explained. “The snowmobiles don’t have to break through the weeds and everything.”

The club was recently awarded a $10,000 grant from Polaris Industries to purchase a Polaris Ranger for fall and spring work, Hogan noted.

“Putting up signs, taking down signs,” he said. “It can pull a mower, as well, so we have some additional capabilities there now.”

A local farmer volunteers space to store the club equipment.

Trail bosses have sections of trail they maintain, with assistance from other volunteers.

In mid-December, members had to work to rehabilitate several bridges– one between Fairfax and Atkins, near the new Highway 100 and Highway 30 interchange, and the other on a trail going around Lake Macbride.

It’s somewhat typical of the work that Snowdrifters members put in, Hogan said– up to three bridges require repair or replacement each year.

Hogan estimated he personally spends at least 40 hours a year just on trail work.

The group tracks its volunteer hours and submits them to the state every year.

“It’s significant,” he said.

The Snowdrifters record all their trails with the state, and publish and distribute a detailed map of all trails (also available on the club’s website), including town curfews, general riding rules, specific trail warnings and speed limits. Advertisers, whose dollars offset the cost of printing the maps, are businesses that cater to the snowmobile crowd or support the sport; their locations are also shown on the map.

“It’s a good trail system,” Hogan said. “There’s some nice loops you can run that you don’t have to run the same trail back and forth. You can make a full day just running our trail system.”

The group organizes rides during the snowmobiling season, but also keeps busy the rest of the year, not only with trail work but other community events like a summer golf outing.

The fundraisers have allowed the club to keep up on equipment and maintenance, but also to fund scholarships and charitable donations that totaled nearly $10,000 over the last three years, Hogan said.

“We’re not just a bunch of guys that are running around bar to bar,” he added. “We’re active in the community, we’re giving back to the community as well.”

He encouraged local snowmobile owners to consider getting involved.

“In my opinion, we’re one of the best clubs in the state,” he concluded.

For more information go to

www.iowa-snowdrifters.org, email iowasnowdrifters@gmail.com or find the Snowdrifters on Facebook.