Snow machine riders happy to have snowmobiling governor

Juneau enthusiasts hope Palin's affinity for sport helps their cause

Posted: Sunday, November 26, 2006

The past few weeks have been great for Juneau snow machine riders. First the snow started, then one of their own got elected governor.

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That's got riders in the city thinking their sport could get a boost.

"Governor Palin would probably support expanding access to snowmobiling in the state of Alaska," said Mark Wilke, a member of the Juneau Snowmobile Club.

Mark Schultz, a Juneau snow mobiler, said said the early snowfall has been great for riders.

"It's just been phenomenal around here. If you can stay warm you can get some good riding in," he said. Schultz been out riding the last six days in a row as Juneau got a rare early-season deluge of snow.

Sarah Palin, Wasilla Republican and long-time snow machine rider, beat former two-time Democratic Gov. Tony Knowles in the general election.

During the campaign, Palin talked of her love of snowmobile riding several times. That's why she likes living in the Matanuska Valley, she said.

"You can snow machine from your front yard," she said. "You can get on a trail from the valley and hit Nome from that snow machine trail."

At least you can on a normal year. This year the snow machine riding is better in Juneau than it is up north, said Schultz.

Schultz, who voted for Palin, said he was eager to welcome her to Juneau and suggested she bring her snow machine with her to get in some riding while the Matanuska Valley awaits snow.

"We've got good riding down here," he said. "We got the jump on them this year. This is the best early start we've had in a long time."

Schultz estimated there are roughly a few hundred snow machine riders in Juneau. As important as the early snow was to them, having a governor who supports their hobby is more important.

Brad Berens, riding Saturday at Spaulding Meadows, said he knows what he wants out of a pro-snowmobiling governor.

"More places to ride," he said. He, too, voted for Palin, but issues like getting the Kensington Mine up and running played a bigger role in his decision than did snow machining.

Juneau has few places to ride, and Schultz said he'd like to see that change.

"We need more roads up higher," said Schultz. "Eaglecrest is the only road with any elevation to it and there's no snow machining up there."

The current snow machine areas have been negotiated with the Forest Service over the years. Schultz said he doesn't want to open up any trails where snowmobiles are currently banned. Instead, he's like to see new access to snowy, higher elevation areas.

Wilke, a Juneau rider who serves on a state snowmobile advisory board, said there are more places to ride than it first appears. Spaulding Meadow and the Treadwell Ditch Trail are the main places, but there's also some riding at Mt. Jumbo, on Mendenhall Lake when it is frozen, and sometimes people can ride on remote, unplowed roads.

Having the governor's help in the battle for access to places to ride might be handy, Wilke said adding that in Juneau, snowmobilers and their opponents have reached "equilibrium" and aren't trying to open any more trails to snow machines and aren't trying to close existing trails.

The best thing Palin could do as governor, he said, is follow through on Gov. Frank Murkowski's plans for a road to Haines and give Juneau residents better access to the great snow machine riding up there, Wilke said.

When Berens heard that Palin's husband, Todd Palin, was three-time champion of the Iron Dog 2000, the world's longest snow machine race, he was impressed.

"Right on," he said.

And Wilke was more than happy to have another enthusiast in town.

"I'm sure the Juneau Snowmobile Club members would love to take them out and show them our trails," he said.

• Pat Forgey can be reached at

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