A half century ago, Brooklyn snowmobile riders gathered in a shed on a secluded farm to discuss how to start a snowmobile club.
In the early 1970’s, marked snowmobile trails were non-existent, and riders relied on both memory and experience to navigate the countryside. As the riders met – and eventually moved toward incorporation – they called their hideout the “Hornet’s Nest.”
This March marks Brooklyn Sno Hornets 50th anniversary as a snowmobile club – although they no longer meet in a farmer’s shed.
The club maintains roughly 70 miles of snowmobile trails and installs thousands of traffic signs for the riders, including mile markers and stop signs. Through the fields of 83 landowners, the trails connect Albany, Evansville, Bellville, Dayton, Oregon and Brooklyn. The trails are regularly groomed or packed down, so snowmobilers across the state of Wisconsin can ride them.
Each season the club families, which has more than 100 individuals from 49 families, spend weekends and nights cleaning the trails, getting permission from landowners, installing signs and raising money for the club and the community.
Volunteers do this each year, without the guarantee of a single ride. This season, the trails were open roughly two weeks, according to Dane County Parks data. During the 2017 season, the trails were open for just three days.
And 2002, the trails did not open for a single day.
“We might get one more blizzard and get out on the trails one more time,” a Sno Hornet member said during a monthly meeting.
Membership chair Sheri Arndt replied, “We can only hope.”
Jerry Zweifel is the only remaining charter member who joined the Sno Hornets five decades ago, still riding and a regular at monthly meetings.
Although membership has changed, the Sno Hornets still prioritize community and camaraderie as the founding members did, member Mark Stephens wrote in a 50th anniversary history letter.
Each year in February, members get together for the annual Klondike celebration. People celebrate the season with the “soup kettle,” where every participant brings a can of soup and pour it into a large kettle. The soup is then cooked over a fire with hotdogs and beer.
Arndt and Stephens said although it sounds scary, the soup tastes surprisingly good.
To thank the landowners for allowing the trails on their land, Sno Hornets continue with a dying tradition of paying the homeowners $1 per “rod,” or a six and a half foot portion of trail on their property. Previously it was state mandated that homeowners be compensated, but now with less engagement and funding to clubs the tradition is less common, Stephens said.
Many of the landowners, return the check and put it right back into the Sno Hornets fund, member Dale Arndt said.
The club also holds a landowners party each summer with food and drinks to show their appreciation.
In addition to thanking the landowners, the Sno Hornets donate roughly $1,100 to area organizations, such as fire departments and EMS, Erin Hawkinson, the treasurer, said . That amount does not include the roughly $3,000 raised by the annual Truck and Tractor pull organized by both the Brooklyn Sno Hornets and the Oregon Sno Blazers Club.
“The camaraderie that comes with being apart of a snowmobile club is awesome. In most cases those people become life long friends,” vice president Tyler Arndt wrote to the Observer in an email.
Maintaining the trails
The emphasis on community hasn’t changed but the club’s equipment has. From 1970 to 1989, volunteers used a weighted bed spring, pulled behind a snowmobile to groom the trails. They also had paper signs that directed riders on the trail.
Those signs, however, quickly weathered.
Today, the grooming equipment has been upgraded to two groomers, a John Deer tractor, a mower and a mulcher, and the metal signs can now be reused every year.
As the club expanded, members needed more space for monthly meetings and annual celebrations. From October to April, club officers and members gather in the Brooklyn Community Building to discuss the club’s financials and future plans.
Although they no longer meet in the “Hornets nest” on the secluded farm, the name and the traditions are still kept alive.
“Without clubs and the volunteers that are the members there would be no snowmobile trails. The 25,000 miles of trails in Wisconsin are there to be enjoyed because of clubs,” president Larry Arndt wrote in an email.