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By Sarah Smith, Forum Communications Co., Published February 14 2010

More snowmobilers hitting the trails

PARK RAPIDS, Minn. – An economic boom is noisily happening throughout the region each weekend as dozens of snowmobilers flock to Hubbard County trails.

And if Mother Nature cooperates, local businesses hope that the snowmobiling tourists can help prop up the local economy.

For example, on a recent weekend, a group of snowmobilers primarily from North Dakota came to Hubbard County and the surrounding region. The weekend before, a dozen sleds from Karlstad, Minn., zipped around the Itasca and Lake George areas.

“These trails are incredible,” said Jay Larson of Fargo. “This is some of the best riding and trees in the state.”

Larson was in a group of 11 men that spent three days on the trails.

“We figure we’ll spend $300 apiece for the weekend,” said Terry Waltz of Fargo, adding that was probably a conservative estimate.

The men put on 300 miles, traveling throughout Hubbard County and north to Bemidji and Becida, and even through Itasca State Park.

Some of the men are from Langdon, near the Canadian border in northeastern North Dakota. They annually meet with others from Thief River Falls, Minn., to ride the Hubbard County trails.

“We dropped $200 in Walker yesterday just for lunch,” Ingersoll said.

“Just the daily gas in our sleds runs $50 to $60,” said Barry Hoffer of Thief River Falls.

The Fargoans come more often, sometimes several weekends a year.

Temperatures in the 20s and fresh helpings of snow have increased regional visitors.

On a recent Saturday. Zhateau Zorbaz pizzeria north of Dorset was full of snowmobilers over the lunch hour.

The Fargo/Thief River Falls bunch led by Waltz, the designated “party planner,” was there, too. They spent another $200 and left the bartender a healthy tip. They were headed to Nevis, where they planned on dropping another $150 to $200 at the gas pumps.

As thankful as local business owners are for the hospitable winter this year, the season is far from matching the winters of 10 to 15 years ago.

“It hasn’t been too good the past 10 years,” said Park Rapids Super 8 owner Glen Goebel, adding, “Fifteen years ago it was great. We were full every weekend.”

But he’s hoping continuous snowfall and good word of mouth will bring the crowds roaring back.

Sarah Smith is a reporter at The Park Rapids Enterprise, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.