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Lack of snow affecting trail group

The Douglas Area Trails Association grooms roughly 368 miles of trails throughout Douglas County each year. Of those 368 miles, 36 are on the Central Lakes Trail. (Echo Press file photo)

With little to no snow the past three winters, members of the Douglas Area Trails Association have been feeling a little annoyed.

Jeff Linn, trail administrator, explained to Douglas County commissioners at their April 18 regular board meeting that although the past three seasons for the snowmobiling industry have been difficult, the association is optimistic that true Minnesota winters will be back to "normal" soon.

"It's been frustrating," Linn said. "When we get 6 inches of snow, we have people chomping at the bit to get out and go riding, and we have to have the trails ready."

Besides providing an update to the commissioners, Linn asked for the county's continued sponsorship of the trail system, commonly known as DATA, and also received approval for the Department of Natural Resources Grant in Aid Program, which DATA has been involved in for the past 18 years.

With Douglas County as the sponsor, the trails association is eligible for the DNR grants. The county does not fund the trails directly; it is just the pass-through agency.

The maintenance and grooming program grants ensure that the trails are prepared and ready for use, adequately groomed throughout the season and then properly closed at the end of the season.

Linn said that although this past winter season was not the best, DATA still managed to groom about 1,200 miles total. About one-third of that mileage, Linn said, was the groomers just going around "stuff" because there wasn't really enough snow.

"We couldn't have everything open because it wasn't safe," he said.

Linn explained that the trail association receives grant money from the DNR each year and that this year, it pulled some of its funding. Back in 2008, DATA received about $150,000 and now, Linn said it receives between $128,000 and $130,000.

"We are trying to be as efficient as possible and play by the DNR rules and your rules," Linn said. "It can be challenging, but I enjoy it. But you guys have to have my back."

Because the snowmobiling season has been less than ideal over the course of the last few years, Linn said that some of the association's board members have been trained in how to groom the trails and that they have donated their time doing so.

Commissioner Owen Miller asked Linn about DATA's membership.

"It's definitely decreasing," Linn told him. "In 2008, we had about 200 members and now, we are down around 125 members. The last three years have really been hard."

Commissioner Jerry Rapp, who represents the Osakis area, asked if the trails maintained by DATA are open to four-wheelers. Linn said it is kind of complicated because the DNR has rules, but that the answer, in essence, is no.

"It's not my rules," he said. "But I do get that question a lot."

This year, the trails officially closed mid-February, although in January, there was only "OK snow and fair trails" for about 10 days.

About the trail association

The Douglas Area Trails Association is a nonprofit corporation sponsored by Douglas County to build and maintain recreational trails. It currently maintains and grooms 368 miles of snowmobile trails, which includes 36 miles of the black-topped Central Lakes Trail. The association uses four Tucker Sno Cats to groom and maintain the trails and, when needed, goes out at least two times per week.

Its board of directors meets monthly on the second Monday of each month at the Holiday Inn. Meetings are open to all members. A family membership is $40 per year with half of the fee going to MNUSA, which is the state snowmobile trail association.

For more information about the trail association, visit its website at

Celeste Edenloff

Celeste is a reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press and has lived in the Alexandria Lakes Area since 1997. She first worked for the Echo Press as a reporter from 1999 to 2011, and returned in June 2016 to report on the community she calls home. She enjoys running and has participated in nearly 200 races with her husband, Al, covering the 5K, 10K, 10-mile and half-marathon distances.

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