Snowmobiling in Marathon County Is Built on Public–Private Partnership & Decades of Trust

Written by Karyn Powers

It takes more than snow and a sled to snowmobile in Marathon County…

It takes an ARMY of dedicated volunteers — and the hospitality of 1,100 private landholders, who open their county farms and forestlands to 863 miles of snowmobile and ATV trails… on a handshake.

Don Aanonsen — President of the Marathon County Snowmobile Council, Past President of the Shawano County Snowmobile Alliance, member of the Wittenberg Trailblazers Snowmobile Club, and the Hatley Snowmobile Club — explained why:

It’s the atmosphere they’ve been brought up in. Country folks are really open to sharing the beauty of their property with others. For me, it’s the excitement of seeing parents riding with their kids, and for [them] the excitement of seeing turkeys and deer in the woods.”

Aanonsen joined the Wittenberg Trailblazers in 1971. It was a time when responsible snowmobilers all over the state were forming clubs and working to establish trails connecting communities and rural destinations. Because of these early efforts, Wisconsin’s trail system now covers nearly the entire state, with between 24,000 and 25,000 miles of trails.

Today, Marathon County has 29 clubs with 1,700 members who use $303,750 generated from snowmobile registrations, trail passes, and gas taxes to maintain the county snowmobile trails. 

Between them, the clubs own 50 sets of trail-grooming equipment (typically a Tucker Sno-Cat or Ag tractor with tracks and a snow drag). In addition to the trail maintenance funds, Motorized Recreation Administrator, Jon Daniels has applied for and received an average of $545,000 per year from the State of Wisconsin for trail improvements and bridges.

Other than Daniels, who is a county employee with the Wausau and Marathon County Parks, Recreation, and Forestry Department, no one involved in maintaining the landowner relationships, grooming the club trials, or supporting local charities and scholarships gets paid for their efforts. Aanonsen shared…

We have no paid staff members. We’re all volunteers. I stay deeply involved because I want to share my knowledge of how to work with landowners. You have to be careful who talks to owners and understand they have the final say.”

The Kelly Snowshoes Snowmobile Club was founded in 1973. Club President, Dennis Kleman, has been a member for more than 40 years and has been a landowner with trails on his property for the past 10 years. The club currently has 80 members and groom more than 42 miles of snowmobile trails and about the same number for ATVs.

Clubs sign a contract with the state to groom at least twice a week when trails are open. Driving the club-owned $200,000 piece of specialized equipment is afforded to a select number of volunteers in each club. For the pleasure of grooming, club members get to finish their regular jobs and climb into tractor cab, when most people are climbing into their recliners for the night.  These volunteers will drive anywhere from 4 to 6 hours, through woodlands and fields, in every conceivable winter weather, so that trails are ready for safe riding by morning.

Poniatowski Dare Devils Snowmobile Club groomer and drag.

The Poniatowski Dare Devils Snowmobile Club will celebrate 50 years in existence in 2020. Bill Rauen, Trail Boss for the Dare Devils, believes there are many club members who maintain year-round relationships with the landowners who host their trails. He’s concerned that these relationships will be lost or altered when the “old dogs” are no longer around to put in the time.

Part of the reason [it] works today was the past effort we took to know our neighbors up and down the trail. If that communication goes away, it will be harder to iron out difficulties.”

As the 2016 recipient of the Association of Wisconsin Snowmobile Clubs Groomer of the Year, Rauen isn’t worried about that happening anytime soon, though.

As the snow keeps coming, he’ll be back in the cab making the trails safe for the thousands of snowmobilers in Marathon County.

“It’s a love. Like most things you volunteer for, you do it because you love it.”

Watch the clip below for a time lapse video of snowmobile trail-grooming by the Nutterville SnowNuts. (The video is sped up 4x.)


Updates on if snowmobile trails in Marathon County are open or closed, a list of area snowmobile clubs, and Snowmobile Trail Maps are available on the county’s website here.

We’ll see you on the trails!


Karyn Powers

Recreation Superintendent  |  Wausau / Marathon County Parks, Recreation, & Forestry Department

Karyn Powers joined the Parks, Recreation, and Forestry Department in 1991. Prior to settling in Marathon County, she spent 5 years working for the Department of Defense in Morale, Welfare, and Recreation Services for the U.S. Navy in Iceland and the U.S. Army in South Korea. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Park and Recreation Administration and a master’s degree in Education. In addition to being the city/county Recreation Superintendent, she is a published poet and author. Karyn fell in love with Marathon County as a college senior when she interned here in 1979, then traveled halfway around the world to get back here as soon as was possible.  Email Karyn Powers.

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