By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — It was a case of what used to be true no longer was true.
To rectify the situation, the Colfax Village Board approved at the February 12 meeting allowing snowmobiles to take the shortest route through the village from a residence to a marked trail.
The village board also approved a trail to the Colfax school district so students who are old enough and who have completed snowmobile safety can ride their snowmobiles to school.
Mike Buchner, president of the Colfax Sno-Drifters snowmobile club, spoke to the village board during the public comments portion of the meeting.
In the past, snowmobiles were allowed to take the shortest distance from a residence to the marked trails and to get fuel as long as the snowmobiles did not drive on state Highway 40/Main Street, he said.
State law prohibits snowmobiles from being operated on state highways.
Buchner said he had heard so many stories, he was not sure what was true, but that the upshot was someone had complained about snowmobiles to the Colfax Police Department, and snowmobile club members had been informed that the way the village’s ordinances read now, snowmobiles are not allowed to be operated on any street.
“I am wondering when the ordinance was changed, or if it’s a possibility to get the ordinance changed back,” Buchner said.
Buchner said he talked to Bill Yingst, school district administrator, about students riding their snowmobiles to school.
Yingst reportedly told Buchner the school district did not have a problem with it as long as the students obeyed all of the rules.
Yingst also said he would develop a permission slip for students to ride their snowmobiles to school that would require a parent’s signature and the student’s signature and would ask the Board of Education to take action on the matter, Buchner said.
Buchner cited issues of the Colfax Messenger from 1973 when the village board approved allowing snowmobiles to operate within the village limits.
“When it was passed, there was no snowmobiling in the village. What do we have to do to work together?” Buchner said.
According to the March 12, 1973, village board proceedings published in the March 22, 1973, Colfax Messenger: “A motion was made by Trustee Raymond Johnson and seconded by Trustee Delmar Kressin, that the Village Board of the Village of Colfax accept the designated snowmobile trail within the boundaries of the Village of Colfax as presented and requested by the Sno-Drifters Snowmobile Club.”
In the March 15, 1973, Colfax Messenger, the following was included in article about the March 12 village board meeting: “A map of snowmobile routes in the village was presented to the council by the Sno-Drifters Club. It was unanimously accepted by the board on a motion by Trustee Ray Johnson. Alan Johnson of the Sno-Drifters brought the map before the council. He said the club intends to put signs marking the route before next winter.”
The snowmobile trail used to go across the Colfax Fairgrounds, Buchner said.
Buchner proposed that snowmobiles be allowed to use the road on the east side of the fairgrounds, cross the footbridge and go up the driveway to cross state Highway 40 to Johnson-Olson Road to bypass having to drive all the way to county Highway M.
The Colfax Sno-Drifters are in the process of getting bridges on school land by the cemetery. One bridge will be south of Evergreen Cemetery, and the other bridge will come out on Highway 40, he said, noting the club is in year two of the bridge process.
The Colfax Board of Education approved allowing the bridges on school property last spring.
The way the ordinance is written now, snowmobilers could not ride through the fairgrounds, but if there was a designated trail the village would allow, then the snowmobiles could go across fairgrounds, said Randy Risler, a rural Colfax resident and a member of the Sno-Drifters.
“I always remember a trail that went right through the fairgrounds,” said Mark Halpin, village trustee.
“One nice thing about having a snowmobile and not a boat or a pontoon, you can start and leave from your backyard. You don’t have to trailer to a lake, or you don’t have to trailer to a river. You can take off from your residence, and take an alley or a street and get to the existing trail without going down 40, provided they follow the speed limits and guidelines,” Buchner said.
Several village board members wondered about the snowmobile trails being open.
Unless they are on their own land, people can only ride snowmobiles on the trails when the trails have been designated as “open,” Buchner said.
Halpin, who said he does not ride snowmobiles, wondered how people know when the trails are open.
Dunn County posts it on the county’s website when the snowmobile trails are officially open, Buchner said.
“Anybody who rides a snowmobile knows you can only ride when the trails are open,” Risler said.
Snowmobilers also have to be cognizant of which county they are riding in and whether the trails are open in that county, he said.
“For a long time Dunn County was open but Chippewa was closed, so you have to know which county you are riding in and look ahead to see if trails are open or closed,” Risler said.
Todd Wanish, also a member of the Sno-Drifters, said Police Chief Bill Anderson did not have a problem with people riding their snowmobiles along village streets.
State law allows snowmobiles to use the ditches along roads as long as the snowmobile stays 10 feet away from the road surface.
The problem with village streets is there are no ditches, so the original ordinance stipulated the snowmobiles had to stay as far to the right as possible but not use sidewalks or cut through yards, Buchner said.
“I hate to see everybody get punished because one or three individuals did something foolish,” he said.
According to state statute 130.03, “the operator of a snowmobile shall slow the vehicle to a speed not to exceed 10 miles per hour and yield the right-of-way when traveling within 100 feet of a person who is not in or on a snowmobile.”
DNR regulations include the stipulation that when a snowmobile is being ridden between 10:30 p.m. and 7 a.m. and within 150 feet of a home or dwelling, the snowmobile must be operated at 10 mph or less.
Rand Bates, director of public works, pointed out the police chief is authorized to put up snowmobile route signs and wondered if the Sno-Drifters would be willing to put up the signs.
Buchner and the other members of the club said they would be willing to install signs marking the snowmobile route through Colfax.
Buchner said he would prefer the route go through the Colfax Fairgrounds because there are fewer houses along that route.
If the bridge at the fairgrounds is an issue, the snowmobile club and the village could work together. Plywood or rubber mats could be put on the bridge to protect the bridge surface. At 10 mph the snowmobiles should not have much of an impact on the streets. When the snowmobile bridge comes out on Highway 40, it will come out well east of the village, and then another route will have to used, Buchner said.
The Colfax Village Board unanimously approved a motion granting permission for snowmobiles to go from a residence to a trail by the shortest route and to use a designated trail to the school district. The other routes designated in the village are Dunn Street to Railroad Avenue.
The ordinance will be updated for the next village board meeting with the correct description of the routes.
The Sno-Drifters Snowmobile Club will take care of installing the signs.
The snowmobile routes through the village will go into effect following publication in the Colfax Messenger.