RICHMOND – Stabbing a shovel into the ground, Gary Manuel digs a large rock out of the middle of a snowmobiling trail.
Armed with chain saws, hedge clippers, a mallet and neon orange reflectors, Manuel and two other members of the Richmond Trailblazers slowly made their way through a particularly wooded section of trail.
The weather was unseasonably warm on the last Wednesday of November as the Trailblazers and other snowmobile clubs prepped the trail for the beginning of the snowmobiling season, which started Monday.
All that’s needed now is snow: at least 4 inches is required if the ground is frozen, and 6 inches if it’s not.
Temperatures are likely to hover in the mid-40s through the week, but there’s a 40 percent chance of snow Dec. 19.
It takes 400 hours to prepare Richmond’s 40 miles of trail, said Dick Arseneau, the club’s longtime president and the trail master for the McHenry County Snowmobile Association – a collective of 10 clubs.
“These markers, every fall, don’t just pop out of the ground,” Arseneau said. “They have to be put there.”
In total, about 200 miles make up the association’s system, running from Harvard in the west to Fox Lake and Wauconda in the east. Most of the trails are in northeast McHenry County, in Ringwood, Wonder Lake, Johnsburg, Richmond and Spring Grove.
The work is worth it to Manuel, who has a 13-year-old son and 15-year-old daughter. Both ride the trails.
“I mark [the trails] with the idea that their safety depends on it,” he said.
That’s why people should stick to the trails, Arseneau said. It’s safer, plus the vast majority of the trails run through private property.
To operate a snowmobile in Illinois, drivers must have their snowmobile registered and carry proof of insurance. Non-Illinois residents also need to have a trail permit, which costs $25 and can be purchased where hunting licenses are sold.
Municipalities have their own rules about how snowmobilers can access trails – whether they can drive snowmobiles to the trails or whether they have to transport the machines to a park-and-ride area. Some also have curfews.