Watch part 1 here.
Before snowmobilers can go fast on the trails near Lake of the Woods, they need volunteer groomers like George Gregory to go slow while grooming thousands of miles of Oregon trails that are at the heart of the back-country winter recreational experience.
Gregory, the Lake of the Woods Resort general manager, is a member of the Klamath Basin Snowdrifters, a snowmobile club affiliated with the Oregon State Snowmobile Association. Using grooming machines bought with gas-tax money funneled through the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department, the snowdrifters take turns packing, leveling and widening more than 300 miles of trails around Lake of the Woods, encompassing paths in both the Rogue River-Siskiyou and Freemont-Winema national forests.
The trails go to Pelican Butte, Brown Mountain and even several lava flows in the region. Other trails in the Hyatt Lake area are groomed for both snowmobiles and cross-country skiers.
“There’s about 12 of us now who groom trails on the forest,” Gregory says. “We don’t get paid but we light to do it because it a great fun way to get out and see the forest and help out the community.
“And there aren’t too many jobs where you volunteer and they hand you the keys to a $250,000 piece of equipment,” he says.
The Klamath Basin Snowdrifters and the Medford-based Rogue Snowmobilers are two of the 25 snowmobile clubs in Oregon whose volunteers groom about 6,000 miles of trail a year in the program run by the LaPine-based Oregon State Snowmobile Association.
Under state law, the OSSA received about $ 1.02 million annually, mostly in gas-tax refunds for the gas burned while snowmobiling as well as funds from the Oregon Department of Transportation's all-terrain vehicle fund, according to ODOT.
The money is used to buy sno-cats and other gear for the various clubs, including the purchase of the 27 sno-cats owned by the organization, says Peggy Spieger, the OSSA’s executive director.
Many of the trail systems groomed by the various clubs are loosely connected, allowing snowmobilers to travel great distances if they choose.
“You can ride a snowmobile on groomed trails from Lake of the Woods to Bend, if the conditions are right,” Gregory says.