FROM HIS PERCH IN THE FRONT SEAT of the snowmobile trail groomer, Leroy Tennyson is in the perfect spot to gain a unique perspective of the world around him.
“A big appeal of being a groomer, for me, is being in places that a vast majority of people will never get to,” Tennyson said. “When I am grooming I am in places that are too far for people to hike or to ski or to snowshoe. When I am grooming I am able to see wildlife in their home (territory) and I am going slowly enough that I can see them go about their daily routines.”
Among those daily routine encounters was the time he tracked the movements of a deer and some wolves with the help of the clues they left in the snow. Grooming a section of trail near Itasca State Park, Tennyson was backtracking on his way home when he came across a set of deer and wolf tracks. A short distance later deer fur littered the trail and then the snow was crimson from fresh blood.
“I had groomed that section 30 minutes earlier and everything was quiet,” Tennyson said. “But during that half hour the wolves had made a deer kill right off the trail.
Tennyson is president of the Bemidji area’s North Country Snowmobile Club and also is one of about a dozen club members who man the organization’s five groomers and maintain the 400 miles of trails within the NCSC’s jurisdiction. When snow and weather conditions allow, the groomers make their individual 4-hour to 11-hour runs twice a week.
“Each trail and the traffic on each trail is different so the trails can all have different grooming needs,” Tennyson said. “Efficiency with our grooming is what we look for and safety is our top priority. When I am in the groomer I tell myself that I am grooming for my wife to ride her snowmobile on the trail. I want to make it as smooth and as safe as it can be.”
The winter will dictate the trail conditions and this year the Bemidji area boasts some of the best snow in Minnesota. Because of the labors of the NCSC members who cleared brush and installed signs prior to winter, the trails were ready to use as
soon as the snow arrived. And when conditions were perfect, the groomers started their machines’ engines.
“We need 12 inches of good snow before we take groomers out of the shop and this year we were able to snowmobile in mid-December,” said North Country Snowmobile Club administrator Rod Siebel. “Before the season we spend $25,000-$30,000 just on trail preparation and maintenance so we are ready when the snow comes. This year we have a very good base on the trails and if we continue to get our snow the trails will remain excellent.”
Some groomers prefer to run their routes during daylight but the 45-year-old Tennyson likes to hop into his machine at night or in the early morning.
“Even though you have to watch in every direction at the same time to make sure you don’t hit anything and that the trail is being groomed the right way, being in the groomer is relaxing and good therapy for me,” he said. “And when you leave the trail and the grooming turned out well, it is very gratifying.
“I’ve been snowmobiling since I was 3 and I wanted to give back to the sport,” Tennyson continued. “Knowing I am part of something that benefits the community and the sport of snowmobiling is rewarding. My goal is to maintain our trails so people can come here, vacation here and enjoy the best trails we can possibly have. I enjoy seeing people use the trails that I just groomed. And I enjoy seeing people snowmobile on some of best trails to ride in Minnesota.”