In early March of 2000 a small group consisting of Dale Brelsford, Mieke Brelsford, Ed Carlson, Gwen Carlson, Ric Curnow, Bev Curnow, and Shirley Moore met and began to explore the organizing of a club which would later become the Chippewa Snow Chasers. The Kinross Township grooming was deficient, if not absent from our area. We wanted groomed, smooth trails. We had many questions to be answered. Why were the trails not being groomed? What could we do to help? Did they need money? Did they need equipment? Did they need operators? Could this small group form a snowmobile club to help Kinross’ efforts?
At our second meeting, March 20th, 2000, we elected temporary officers. We discussed setting up by-laws, appointing committees, and the possibility of having the Bay Mills Tribe groom area trails. We really didn’t have the drive to get involved in grooming snowmobile trails.
At our next meeting, April 30th, 2000, we opened a checking account, chose our now famous name, and discussed our by-laws and our goals. We had 17 members and 1 commercial member. We had $385 in our coffer. Kinross Township had announced that they would not be grooming snowmobile trails in our area anymore. We had a decision to make. Were we to be a grooming club? The answer was obvious. If we wanted our trails groomed, we would have to groom them ourselves. We had to get involved all the way or lose control of the grooming of our trails. We had a big task ahead of us. We had no equipment, operators, or funding to groom 81 miles of trails left to us by Kinross’ withdrawal, but, we were the “Chippewa Snow Chasers”
Throughout the summer of 2000 as the small club grew larger and held fundraisers, pie sales, yard sales, pig roasts and spaghetti dinners. We were generating not only money but also community and statewide enthusiasm. Our goal was to have grooming equipment in place and be ready to groom the trails when the snowmobile trails opened on December 1, 2000. We met with the Michigan Snowmobile Association (MSA), the Department of Natural Resources, and local businesses, brainstorming ways to meet our goal. Everyone we talked with knew our small club was serious, but could we meet the December 1st deadline? The alternative was 81 miles of moguls in the middle of the Eastern Upper Peninsula.
Several individuals and business owners signed personal notes so that the Snow Chasers could meet the bank’s down payment requirements. By October of 2000 the Snow Chasers were able to obtain financing for two used LMC groomers and the machines were transported to Strongs to await the first snowflakes of winter. Only one member of the group, Ric Curnow, had operated a groomer before and he gave the new operators a crash course in grooming. We were now prepared for grooming. Money had been granted to Kinross Township Grooming to develop a new section of trail near Hulbert. So that the money would not be lost to the area, club members carved out a section of new trail leading from M-28 to Hulbert. Bulldozers were pushing out stumps and trees were being cut to make the new section of trail. Signs were put up so snowmobilers would have a safe ride in the winter.
Eight months after the first meeting of the Chippewa Snow Chasers, the snow began to fall. The groomers hit the trail and the 2000-2001 snowmobile season began. Besides being new to grooming, the club was out on a financial limb as well. Many times we wondered how we were going to pay for the next tank of fuel to keep the groomers on the trails. Sometimes things did not go so smoothly. By January and February our two very used grooming tractors were really starting to show their age and started to break down. Club members donated their time to drive to Petoskey for parts, and work on the tractors in freezing temperatures to get them back on the trails as soon as possible.
In January of 2001 tragedy struck the Snow Chaser family. Bev Curnow, one of our original-founding members, passed away after a short illness. Her husband Ric Curnow, our secretary, was left alone with a business, which now demanded more and more of his time. The 2000-2001 season was to be one where the snow never stopped coming. It was also to be one that tragedy was to visit the Snow Chaser family twice. In February of 2001 our President Dale Brelsford and his wife Mieke lost everything they owned to a tragic house fire. In spite of personal tragedy and the disruption of their lives due to the fire, Dale and Mieke continued their support and work for the club.
When the 2001 snowmobile season officially ended, we had paid out over $27,000.00 in repair parts for our groomers, with all of the labor for repairs being donated by club members. Many times the person who repaired the groomers would be the same one to climb in the cab and drive all night so that there were smooth trails the next morning. Few people outside the club knew of the tragedies and personal sacrifice it took to maintain the trails. Fortunately, people did notice the smooth trails. On the Internet and message boards the Chippewa Snow Chasers were being mentioned and being praised for the work that had been done.
In our first year the Chippewa Snow Chasers went from the original seven members to over 400. People had noticed and they were joining as members, largely because of the work that had been done on the trails by some very dedicated and giving people. Since the club had proved itself in one short year, we were the recipients of a grant to purchase a new groomer. The group chose a New Holland groomer and it was scheduled to arrive the first of December 2001. The Snow Chasers now needed to raise the 40% of $98,000. That is $39,200.00! Where would the money come from? In our second year we had a yard sale, a pig roast and more importantly a snowmobile raffle. The rest of the money would come from the Trail Grant Fund when we groomed the trails. The club is paid per mile to groom the trails. That money not only pays for the fuel and repairs, but also pays for the groomer itself. Since our groomer operators are all volunteers, we are able to put all of the money earned from grooming in the bank to pay off the loan and pay for fuel and repairs.
Our second grooming season began on December 1, 2001. All through December there was no snow and warm weather. By Christmas there was one inch on the ground in Strongs. The week that usually finds restaurants, hotels and motels full all over the Snow Belt was a complete bust. The New Holland sat unused in the parking lot awaiting snow. If the groomer doesn’t run, no money is earned, but the payment still needs to be made. A reprieve came after New Years Day, when snow came to the areas north of Trout Lake. It was possible to do limited grooming, but not all of the trail system had enough snow to support snowmobile activity. By February, Mother Nature had been a bit kinder, but waited until the end of the month before giving the snowmobilers what they wanted. In spite of all of the disappointments, the club held together. The sale of our oldest LMC, a well attended poker run and a successful snowmobile raffle helped, but there was still much to do. The highlight of what had been a dismal year for snowmobilers was the new Chippewa Snow Chasers Website. We were being noticed! We were the club with the web site that everyone was talking about.
The fall of 2002 was the third year of Chippewa Snow Chaser operations. A Labor Day Weekend Pig Roast kicked off the season for about 250 members and guests at Trout Lake Park. We were able to get a second New Holland tractor and drag to start the season. Remember the new groomer was not free. The club had to come up with 40% of the $110,000 purchase price. The club needed to raise $44,000…….
Through the intervening years, the Chippewa Snow Chasers Snowmobile Club has grown in members and spirit. We have made many mistakes and learned many lessons. Problems have cropped up and we have faced them head-on. Members have come and gone, and we as a club have survived. We will always survive as our purpose for being is from the roots of the Yooper Spirit.
It has been a tough and difficult path we have traveled in the past, but a great group of people has made the Chippewa Snow Chasers what it is today. We not only work hard but we play hard as well. Our club has fun social events and fundraisers scheduled throughout the year and we would love to have our members and guests attend all of them. Bookmark our website and visit us often. If you would like to be a part of a great bunch of people and a member of one of the fastest growing clubs in the State of Michigan, visit the “Become a Member” section of our site.