Snowmobile clubs play a pivotal role in the area during the winter months, primarily in their preparation and grooming of snowmobile trails. However, membership numbers are declining, and few active members are individuals in their 20s or 30s.
A new club hopes to ignite a new generation's interest in the activity as the 10,000 Lakes Youth Snowmobile Club was founded in the spring of 2018.
Pequot Lakes High School junior Isaac Sample got the club off the ground - with the help of his uncle, Brian Bleeke - after noticing a key detail in the members of local clubs: very few people were anywhere near his age.
"I'm very active in some of the other local clubs," Sample said. "My uncle and I were talking, and he pointed out that there aren't many younger people in these. It could be because the youth would find those meetings boring and not the part of snowmobiling they are into yet, but we do need to get youth involved in snowmobiling and into the club aspect."
From that, Sample and Bleeke began the 10,000 Lakes Youth Snowmobile Club, which has roughly 15 members with eight or more attending meetings on a regular basis. Ages range from 15 to 18 years old, but the only age requirement for the club is that an individual is old enough to be certified.
"We are more than accepting of anyone," Sample said. "You don't need a snowmobile. You just have to like snowmobiling and want to do it. You don't need fancy gear. It would help if you have a helmet, but we can always find ways around circumstances to get more people involved."
The club meets at 4:30 p.m. at Pequot Lakes High School, with dates posted on the club's Instagram page. While Sample tries to conduct meetings as any other area club would, things that could potential bore the average teenager are left out.
"We don't talk about finances or anything like that," Sample said. "We talk about sleds, trail conditions and things like that. If someone has a question, we help them answer it. If your sled breaks down, we'll help you and learn from each person's breakdown."
"The goal is to have kids join but have fun," Bleeke said. "Our typical meeting looks different than a regular snowmobile club meeting. We'll come up with a subject for the next meeting - whether it's laws on driving in road ditches or old snowmobiles. We will talk about that for the first 15-20 minutes and then the kids can do or talk about whatever they want for the rest of the time."
Bleeke serves as an adult supervisor for the club, but hopes it can retain more of a "by kids, for kids" feeling to keep young sledders active and interested.
"Snowmobiling has always been my passion," he said. "It's a fun sport, and we need to get people out there because it is the only way they are going to realize that it's a lot of fun."
In addition to regular meetings and planned group rides, the club is also making efforts to be a part of the larger snowmobiling community. Club members help local clubs with trail preparations in the fall and have volunteered at a few community events with the hope of finding more.
"If clubs want help with something, they can reach out to us," Sample said. "If we can make it work, we will try to help.
"It has been amazing to see how accepting the snowmobile community has been. Everyone is super excited, because they knew we needed to get youth involved. Sometimes, it's a little nerve-wracking to get all of this organized, but I love seeing the looks on community members faces when we introduce ourselves."
Those interested in joining are encouraged to follow the club's Instagram page @10000_lakes_snowmobile_club and are welcome to send direct messages, which Sample will read and answer.
"We want to keep it focused on having fun on your snowmobile," Bleeke said. "That is what has kept me a snowmobiler all these years."