St. Stephen snowmobile club celebrates 50 years
ST. STEPHEN, Minn. (AP) — The difference a half century makes can be stark. Just looking at a machine as timeless as a snowmobile from 1969 to 2019 shows the way things can change.
People in the area had a chance to see that change up close recently at the 50th anniversary celebration of the St. Stephen River Runners snowmobile club at Trobec’s Bar & Grill.
Now a half-century old, the club has changed in everything from the machines used to the membership. The one constant has been the love of snowmobiling.
The recent event jumps back to 1969 for the festivities, including a vintage sled show and ride, a vintage clothing contest, prizes, games and food. Certain machines, like its trail groomer, were side by side with the club’s original from 1969.
“We are in charge of maintaining, setting up and grooming about 14 miles of trails between Stearns County,” Dan Neid told the St. Cloud Times in advance of the celebration. “Our trails basically go from Sartell to Holdingford,” said Neid, the group’s media editor.
Rodney Welch is the club’s president. He said a new groomer can cost a few hundred thousand dollars, not including maintenance. The club hopes this event will help raise funds and get people excited about snowmobiling.
“Ever since I can remember I’ve been snowmobiling, and my kids are the same way,” Neid said. “Snowmobiling is a way of life. You live and die by the snow.”
Back in 1969, Patty Schuneman, now 82, was one of the founding members of the club. She and her late husband, Clarence, loved snowmobiling. Patty Schuneman even raced them.
“We were just ardent snowmobilers,” Schuneman said. “We got two new machines every year ... we went out almost every night.”
Eventually, they decided to start their own snowmobile club.
“My husband, he and about four or five other guys got it going,” she said. “He’s been gone about three years now.”
Patty and Clarence Schuneman shared their love for snowmobiling with their eight children. One of Patty’s daughters, Ren Schuneman, said it was a staple in their home growing up. Each of the kids got snowmobile certified. Ren still carries her yellowed certification signed in 12-year-old cursive handwriting in her wallet.
“It was just a big family thing,” said Patty Schuneman.
But she said she hasn’t seen people have the same zeal for snowmobiling in the area anymore as they did decades ago.
“The winters haven’t been the same either,” she said. “I’ll never forget me and my girlfriend went out in March. We went out in the boonies here and I stepped off and the snow went up to my waist... There’s not as much snow and it was all open. It’s not like that anymore — you’re always stepping on someone’s toes.”
The club works with between 33 and 44 landowners to make trails through their property.
“We’re here to serve the interest of the snowmobile owners,” Neid said. “We’re here to defend against discriminatory legislation and burdens of taxation, (and) we assist in protection of private and public lands from destruction.”
Neid said the toughest part about keeping the group rolling for so long is keeping active members.
“I think the big thing that we deal with each year is the fluctuation of memberships that coincides with the amount of snowfall we get — it ebbs and flows with the snow totals,” Neid said. ”(But) whether it snows or not, we’re required to set up the trails.”
But in the last year, membership has gone up from about eight to 10 active members to 31, not including kids, though some members’ kids help out
Welch said they hope young people will continue to get involved to be an activity in the area with strong ties to family, like it was when Patty and Clarence Schuneman helped start the River Runners.
“It’s a sport that used to be a real dying sport, and now it’s just a sport families want to bring back,” he said.
Information from: St. Cloud Times, http://www.sctimes.com