ZIMMERMAN, Minn. (WCCO) — In the quiet pine forests of Sherburne County, spring is slowly cracking winter’s grip. Deep snow still covers the forest floor, hidden from the warm sunlight. But it’s a season that is ending tragically for three area snowmobile clubs.
“It was devastating to see it,” said Larry Gallus, treasurer of the Big Lake Sno-Cruisers.
His club, along with the River City Riders and the Elk Lake Easy Riders, form the Sherburne County Trail Association. The group is responsible for maintaining the county’s network of 233 miles of snowmobile trails.
On March 17, firefighters from Zimmerman and three area departments were called to the groups steel pole building west of town. A neighbor called 911 reporting black smoke rising from the building.
“The property was fully-involved when we got to the scene,” said Zimmerman Fire Chief Ryan Maloney.
Maloney said more than 35,000 gallons of water were pumped onto the blaze in an attempt to save the structure. Unfortunately, most of the complex is a total loss.
The building is where the snowmobile clubs held their meetings, conducted safety training and maintained shops for its fleet of three trail grooming machines. They groom more than 230 miles of snowmobile trails that wind through the Sand Dunes State Forest.
“It’s a huge loss. Two groomers, one of them was brand new, only had 200 hours on it,” said Maloney.
The Sherburne County Trail Association’s Facebook page shows the new John Deere tractor that was purchased to pull one of the grooming machines. That and another machine, a 2005 Tucker Sno Cat groomer, are valued at over $330,000. A third machine was out of the complex at the time of the fire.
Investigators believe the fire was purely accidental and say it was possibly the result of either an electrical short or a problem with the new tractor.
“You’re devastated but life goes on. Challenges come up every day but the biggest thing is that nobody was hurt,” said Gallus.
The association’s insurance company is still investigating the actual cause. However, coverage on the building and its contents is expected to pay for the hundreds of thousands of dollars in losses.
But Gallus said it will take countless more volunteer hours to make the clubs whole again.
“The 15 members on the association are dedicated and every club member of all three clubs are dedicated. It’s gonna be a challenge but I’m sure we’ll get it done,” said Gallus.