J. Malmanger
The Free Press, Mankato, MN

A group of Henderson residents is trying to stave off the closing of a popular snowmobile trail into town, but their prospects appear slim.

Snowmobile enthusiasts and Henderson business people met Monday in a township hall just north of town to try to get some answers regarding how best to fight the closure.

“This trail is very special to the people of Henderson. This is their economic stimulus,” businessman Denny Graham said.

“It’s not fair that because an airport was expanded the business people should suffer because of it.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been buying land in the Minnesota River Valley in the aftermath of a Twin Cities airport expansion that usurped National Wildlife Refuge acreage.

To mitigate that refuge loss, the service intends to buy several thousand acres of river bottom land for new refuge areas.

Which means no snowmobiles.

“Generally speaking, we do not allow snowmobiling on wildlife refuges,” said Charles Blair, area refuge manager for the service.

Blair, who fielded questions at the meeting, said the service deems snowmobiling as inappropriate use of refuge areas. Ditto for activities such as oil drilling, camping and use of all-terrain vehicles.

The snowmobile trail has existed about 40 years, and has been maintained and groomed by area snowmobile enthusiasts for about 15 years.

Meeting organizer Mike Spellman said closing the trail just outside Henderson will effectively cut Henderson off from the trail system — and curtail a significant number of visitors to town each winter.

It also would put the kibosh on Henderson’s annual Eskimo Days that attracts area snowmobilers.

“The issue, as I see it, is federal rules trumping private/local needs,” Henderson Chamber of Commerce President Doug Thomas said. “Restaurants and bars count on snowmobiles. It’s part of their business.”

Spellman said closing trail lands at Henderson would produce safety issues by forcing sledders to use road ditches. The aesthetics of snowmobiling in that area also would be lost, he said.

“We don’t snowmobile to snowmobile in ditches. We snowmobile for scenery.”

The upshot of the meeting was that preserving the trail might literally take an act of Congress.

“Talk to your elected representatives,” Blair said when asked what could be done.

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