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Lake Como trail grooming stopped by shutdown

Tony Neaves of the Bitterroot Cross Country Ski Club grooms a portion of the Lake Como ski trails recently. For the first time in four years, 14.5 miles of trails are being groomed for skiing, snowshoeing and dog sledding. On Monday, the club was informed that it would have to stop grooming during the partial government shutdown. 

The fledgling ski trail grooming effort at Lake Como has hit a snag.

On Monday, volunteers with the Bitterroot Cross-County Ski Club were told they couldn’t groom the trails while the partial government shutdown was in place.

The club’s vice president, Jesse Crocker, said a Bitterroot National Forest employee contacted the club with news about a regional office directive that said volunteer organizations operating under volunteer agreements would have to discontinue their efforts during the shutdown.

Anyone working under a volunteer agreement with the Forest Service is covered by federal insurance.

“We were told that people can’t be working and remain covered by insurance during the funding lapse,” Crocker said.

Other local cross-country grooming operations are scheduled to continue.

The groomer from Lost Trail/Powder Mountain ski hill that has been maintaining cross-country skiing trails at Chief Joseph Pass will continue working.

“As far as we’ve heard, there will be no changes in grooming up there,” Crocker said. “That work is administered by the Beaverhead-Deerlodge Forest and the grooming is paid for with grant funding.”

The Missoula Nordic Ski Club will also continue to groom cross-county ski trails at Pattee Canyon and in the Rattlesnake on the Lolo National Forest.

“This is not impacting us at all,” said Steven Gaskill, a Missoula Nordic Ski Club board member. “All is well. They just gave us toilet paper to restock the toilets.''

Gaskill said some of the club’s grooming expenses are partially covered by a state grant, but the Forest Service does consider them volunteers.

“We have a partnership agreement with the Lolo National Forest,” he said. “Each national forest is different. We see that periodically. I do know that if we stopped grooming, there would be a huge uproar here in Missoula. There is a large contingent of skiers here.”

The grooming of 14.5 miles of trails on the south side of Lake Como restarted recently after a four-year hiatus when a different volunteer organization faced funding and manpower challenges.

Last week, Crocker credited Bitterroot Forest officials with hurrying to complete the necessary paperwork to get the grooming restarted before the government shutdown began.

“People were really excited about seeing us up there again,” Crocker said. “We groomed Friday and the trail froze rock hard that night. The fat-tire bikers were out Saturday morning. It was perfect conditions for them.”

There were three inches of new snow on the trail Sunday and another two Monday. Crocker said without grooming, it could be a challenge for skate skiers, but there should be some good classical skiing for the time being.

“There were a lot of people there over the weekend,” Crocker said. “There were at least 40 cars Saturday and a similar number Sunday.”

Calls to the Bitterroot National Forest’s Darby Ranger station and the Forest Service’s Regional Office in Missoula went unanswered.

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Associate Editor

Reporter for The Ravalli Republic.