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No more through-traffic for snowmobilers in Tiffin

Pit stops to The Depot, Throttle Down still allowed
MORE PHOTOSTiffin City Council member Mike Ryan pours over a version of the Iowa Snowdrifters’ trail map at a Dec. 6 council meeting. The organization’s secretary, Derrick Parker, of North Liberty, was present at the meeting to discuss snowmobile trails through Tiffin. (photo by Shianne Fisher)

TIFFIN– Despite early snow activity, Tiffin residents could be seeing fewer snowmobilers downtown this year.
Due to the widening of Highway 6 as part of the Ireland Avenue updates, no sufficient right-of-way exists for snowmobiles between Grant Street and The Depot.
“Really we’ve created this kind of bottleneck and choked them out a little bit,” said City Administrator Doug Boldt. “They can’t get through there anymore.”
Derrick Parker, secretary of the Iowa Snowdrifters, brought the group’s concerns to the Tiffin City Council members’ attention at a Dec. 6 meeting.
“We’re looking at trying to figure out the best way to get into town, get gas and get food,” said Parker. “With the changes on Ireland, it kind of put us in a challenge to get through town.”
The Iowa Snowdrifters, a non-profit social organization focused on snowmobile recreation and safety, manages 220 miles of snowmobile trails in Linn, Iowa, Benton, Washington and Johnson counties, with one of those trails historically going along Highway 6 through Tiffin.
Although the group approached the Johnson County Conservation Board about using land alongside the trail leading into Tiffin, a stipulation in a purchase agreement prohibits motorized vehicles.
“There’s room around our trail, but there’s really not room along the county’s trail,” Boldt pointed out.
Thankfully for avid snowmobilers, a compromise was reached between the Snowdrifters and the City of Tiffin to allow continued use in the area. Riders will be able to enter town from both the east and west, but the snowmobile trail has been modified slightly to disallow through-traffic.
“It’s just a block we can’t get through,” noted Parker. “Because of the concrete they poured in there, it’s just not applicable to be able to get through town.”
According to minutes from the Dec. 8 meeting of the Iowa Snowdrifters, doing so would require grinding along the road and would not be safe due to traffic.
“I think this year it will be fine,” added Parker. “We’ll wait until spring and revisit how we want to approach this particular area.”
Of course, Tiffin is not the only city the Snowdrifters request access to.
In 2014, the City of North Liberty considered an ordinance amendment that would revoke recreational snowmobiling within city limits, change existing routes and restrict snowmobile operation between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m.
Although the ordinance did not pass, Parker said there have been yearly updates to routes through North Liberty and he makes sure to discuss the city’s concerns with the North Liberty Streets Department.
“I don’t know how many of you realized this but you can actually ride from south Iowa all the way to Canada on marked snowmobile trails,” Parker told the council. “Assuming you have snow. That’s a minor issue.”
With snow already falling, Parker and other Snowdrifters members were quick to mark the re-routed Tiffin trail, which comes in from the west on Highway 6 before heading north on Half Moon Avenue to eventually intersect with James Avenue toward North Liberty. From the east, riders will still use Park Road to go north out of town.
As for pit stops, there is still adequate right-of-way for snowmobiles to reach Casey’s, Throttle Down and Bryant’s on the east side of town. Although the trail will not be marked past Half Moon Avenue from the west, Parker said riders can still reach The Depot but the situation will be monitored for issues.
Which, he noted, he doesn’t expect.
“I’ve been in the club 10 years, and I’ve never seen anything for liability,” he said. “Our groomer one time hit a post on somebody’s property, but we just paid to replace that.”
The Snowdrifters and the Iowa State Snowmobile Association (ISSA) also provide $1,000,000,000 worth of liability insurance for property owners in the event of damage.
Mayor Steve Berner asked Parker how the organization handles complaints and maintenance.
“Each town’s different,” responded Parker. “We go to city council meetings and also talk to the police to find out if there’s any issues. If there is an individual that does damage like that, obviously we’re not going to be able to track them down. It’s almost impossible.”
Parker said the group has a great communication method via Facebook and email lists.
“You can’t fix every issue, but you can communicate the importance of being safe and treating people’s property with respect,” he said.
He said there have been some problems in the past but they get resolved pretty quickly.
“You’re going to have your outliers,” council member Mike Ryan acknowledged. “But at least you have a peer group and the pressure from within that group.”
It’s a group of over 100 paid members and nearly 700 Facebook followers that Parker said has a constant flurry of activity.
According to the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association, there were 56,006 snowmobiles sold in the United States in 2016. Of the 1.2 million registered snowmobiles in the country, roughly 23,000 of those are in Iowa.
The Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR) reported 2,161 new registrations this year across the state, and 21,703 renewals. A small percentage of those were in Johnson County, with 35 new registrations and 506 renewals.
“It really ebbs and flows based on snow in the area,” he noted. “This year there seems to be a lot of interest. People think there’s going to be snow because we had snow early. Last year the season was over in January.”
While weather prediction agencies, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, did forecast bursts of arctic air that have become the new normal this December, snowfall is projected to be at or below normal levels.
The weather is unlikely to stop the Snowdrifters from socializing, as the group meets year-round for events like the BigTown ShowDown Truck and Tractor Pull in August, which raises most of the organization’s funding, Parker said.
The group also collects a $40 membership fee, which includes a membership with the ISSA. If a member attends a trail workday, beginning in early September, he or she also gets the annual trail pass from the IDNR– a must to operate the vehicle on public land or ice.
Snowmobiles have until Dec. 31 to renew current registrations without incurring a $5 penalty.
Once the first big snow comes, Parker said the group will likely meet up somewhere for a bonfire, and– for now– access around Tiffin to location should work fine.
Boldt noted in the coming years, construction could cause more complications.
“We’ll be doing this again in about two years anyway because the other route that they have coming in from North Liberty is down Park Road, and once that gets under construction, we’ll have to figure out something for that too,” he said. “It’s a good problem to have but we’ll have to figure it out.”