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GARRISON -- A Garrison-based snowmobiling group that formed just eight months ago is taking on a big task, adding 150 miles to the groomed snowmobile trail system in the state. And it's getting help along the way.

The Sakakawea Fence Stretchers Club is getting monetary help through the group that manages the trail system, cooperation from two county commissions and even a little help from the local shop class with more than 2,500 welded signs. The goal is a smoother and safer riding experience.

"The trails we’re doing have always been trails. It’s the same routes we’ve always been riding. I’ve been riding these routes for 25 years, at least," Club President Brent Schenfisch said. "The only difference is they’re going to be groomed now, and it’ll make it safer and smoother.”

The Sakakawea Fence Stretchers trail will be only a small part of the nearly 3,000 miles of snowmobiling trails throughout North Dakota. The route will take riders from Garrison to Totten Trail, Benedict, Max, Douglas, Ryder, Makoti, Plaza and back to Garrison, with another loop from Douglas to Garrison.

“Every place is family oriented, too, that we’re stopping at,” Head Trail Coordinator Sylvin Brunsell said. “It’s not just for adults; it’s for kids, too.”

The club

Friends of Schenfisch in February suggested starting a club for snowmobiling enthusiasts such as themselves, and after a meeting and vote on the name, Sakakawea Fence Stretchers was born.

“If you ride snowmobile, sooner or later, you’re gonna stretch a fence," Schenfisch said in regard to the bad luck of running into one.

The club has since gained 30 members -- a number that can be doubled since most memberships include a husband and wife and sometimes children. Anyone is welcome to become a member of the nonprofit club, which eventually hopes to benefit organizations such as the fire department and ambulance squad.

“If somebody has a tornado or a fire wipe out their house, we would want to help with that and have some sort of benefit,” Schenfisch.

But the club's immediate focus is on getting the trail ready. 

The trail

The hope is to keep a groomed trail for a full season, from Dec. 1 to April, with upkeeps every couple of weeks.

“That would be nice,” Brunsell said. “Especially with the way the wind blows around here. That way you’re not riding on snow drifts where it’s rough; it’s a nice, smooth surface.”

Schenfisch and the club’s vice president, Rusty Klabunde, attended the McLean County and Ward County Commission meetings to make sure the groups were on board with the concept of bringing a snowmobile trail to the area.

“We wanted them in the loop so one day people didn’t just start calling them up and saying, ‘Hey, what are these signs for?’” Schenfisch said. “We want good public relations with the county entities.”

The club has received money from Snowmobile North Dakota, a program contracted by North Dakota Parks and Recreation to manage the snowmobile trail system in the state. The program is funding a major portion of the grooming taking place on the new trail.

“We have a member who has a tractor with tracks that we can use, and the state is letting us use a drag," Schenfisch said. “A major portion of that cost for the groomer, the SND is paying for.”

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The help

Part of maintaining the trail will entail placing signs to more easily identify hazards such as wires, culverts and rocks. The club hopes to encourage more snowmobilers to ride in the ditches as opposed to going cross country onto private property, which should help with landowner relations. A state inspector will check the signs, and the club will need to make any necessary changes to keep its funding.

All Sakakawea Fence Stretchers club members will help put up the nearly 2,800 signs for the trail toward the end of October. “Hopefully,” Brunsell added with a laugh. “All the (members) that show up.”

The signs will include about 2,100 blazers -- signs that mark the edges of the 10-15-feet-wide trail -- and about 500 control signs such as stop signs and turn signs. The club is starting from scratch, which means members will have to cut posts and do the necessary welding, riveting and screwing. But the club has already had a lot of help.

“It’s a big hassle,” Schenfisch said. “We’ve had help from the school. The local shop class at school is helping do a lot of welding.”

Any help is welcomed by the young club.

“I think it’s going to be a big learning curve the first year or two years,” Brunsell said. “Then after that, I think we’ll be more comfortable, where everything will run a lot smoother, once everything gets established.”

More information on the club can be found on its Facebook page, at www.facebook.com/sakakawea.fencestretchers.

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