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Building Connections Through Snowmobiling

The Mercer Area Sno-Goers is a community-driven snowmobile club
Levi giving thumbs up standing on trail

Winter transforms the landscape into a pristine wonderland, and for snowmobile enthusiasts, there’s no better way to embrace the season than by exploring the snowy trails on the back of a powerful machine. In the heart of Wisconsin, the Mercer Area Sno-Goers snowmobile club stands as a beacon for those seeking thrilling adventures amidst the winter wilderness.

Founded in 1967, the Mercer Area Sno-Goers club has a rich history deeply intertwined with the evolution of snowmobiling. What began as a small group of individuals sharing a passion for winter sports has grown into a robust organization dedicated to maintaining and expanding the snowmobiling experience in the Mercer area.

The club’s early years were marked by a pioneering spirit, as members worked tirelessly to establish and maintain the first snowmobile trails. With more than 900 members, including 100 commercial sponsorships, the Mercer Area Sno-Goers currently manages more than 250 miles of trails, ensuring a safe and enjoyable experience for riders of all levels.

“[The club] has always been successful. We had one year where we got a little tight, but we made it through it. And ever since we’ve been an organized group, we’ve been the second largest club in the state of Wisconsin. Right now, we are knocking on the door of the largest, but we’re not quite there yet,” said the club’s president Hank Joustra.

“Every year we miss it by 20 members or so,” said the club’s vice president Avery Brandt.

Camaraderie and community spirit

At the heart of the Mercer Area Sno-Goers is a strong sense of camaraderie and community spirit. Iron County received the title of Snowmobile Friendly County in 2019. Today, the club serves as a social hub where members from all over the country come together to celebrate their shared passion for snowmobiling.

“We have [members] from Tennessee, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, all over,” Joustra said. “We almost doubled our membership in the last three years. We set the precedents for what it takes to be a snowmobile-friendly county.”

Levi standing on back of trail buggy
Levi Joustra

Regular meetings, events and organized rides foster connections among members, creating lasting friendships that extend beyond the trails. The Mercer Area Sno-Goers exemplify the idea that the joy of snowmobiling goes beyond the thrill of the ride; it is about building connections and sharing experiences with fellow enthusiasts. Joustra says he always encourages people to become members of as many snowmobile clubs as possible.

The Mercer Area Sno-Goers are deeply embedded in the local community, fostering partnerships with entities such as the Chamber of Commerce and the City. Beyond trail coordination, the Sno-Goers actively contribute to various community initiatives. Their involvement extends to the local Lions Club, fire and emergency medical services department and the school, where they make a substantial impact by donating approximately $2,500 to support the scholarship program. The club’s commitment to education and community betterment exemplifies their dedication to leaving a positive mark beyond the trails.

A highlight in their annual calendar is the WinterBlast, a major fundraising event held in their groomer barn. The festivities commence with a hearty breakfast, extending through lunch and dinner to accommodate participants throughout the day.

“We try to keep it a family fun organization and a positive role model for all clubs,” said Joustra.

The club has received many accolades for their efforts. In 2022, they received the Association of Wisconsin Snowmobile Clubs’ (AWSC) Club of the Year award, which led them to receive the American Council of Snowmobile Associations’ (ACSA) 2023 ACSA Snowmobile Club of the Year Award and was named the International Snowmobile Hall of Fame’s 2023 International Snowmobile Club of the Year. Also, Joustra, his wife Kelly and son Levi, received the AWSC 2023 Family of the Year award.

Joustra says they started encouraging people to be a member of not just their club, but all snowmobile clubs. They created a second membership tier, which gives members a 50 percent discount if they are members of any other snowmobile club.

Levi standing in front of banner accepting award
The Mercer Area Sno-Goers received the International Snowmobile Hall of Fame’s 2023 International Snowmobile Club of the Year award

“It’s all part of that ‘united we trail, divided we fail’ slogan that the AWSC has brought up. It’s good to be a part of your local club, but it’s also good to be a part of the clubs where you ride and that’s what we try to promote,” Joustra said. “Our family is a member of the Sno-Goers. We are business members of the Manitowish Waters Sno-Skeeters, which is our snowmobile club to the south, and the White Thunder Riders to the north. So not only do we preach it, we also do it ourselves.

“Together we have a trail system that goes for miles and it’s different views, different terrains, different businesses, different types of ideas of snowmobiling and it’s what makes it all great as a whole. We are not in competition with them. We are playing for the same team, for the same common goal, and the only way that you can prove that is by being a member of that and promoting being a member of all of them.”

Maintaining and expanding the trail network

One of the primary missions of the Mercer Area Sno-Goers is to maintain and expand the snowmobile trail network in the region. These trails are the lifeblood of the snowmobiling community, offering access to breathtaking landscapes and providing a safe and enjoyable riding experience.

The Mercer Area Sno-Goers, which is self-sustained and managed by Iron County Forestry and Parks, is the first to open every year and are custodians of a network of trails that wind through some of the most picturesque landscapes in Wisconsin. From dense forests draped in pristine snow to frozen lakes reflecting the winter sun, riders are treated to a visual feast that changes with every turn.

“Each club runs independently, which is something that’s different,” said Joustra. “Some countys have up to 25 different clubs that run the trail system, so they only have to take care of 20 miles or 30 miles of trail. We are up to 158 miles of funded, 224 total trails, so there are some trails that we groom that are not funded, but they usually go to private businesses. So, we still groom and prepare those trails, just like we do any of our funded trails.”

Group of club members posing for photo
Iron County received the title of Snowmobile Friendly County in 2019

The club’s volunteers work tirelessly to groom the trails, ensuring they are in top condition for riders. This involves regular maintenance, clearing debris and managing the environmental impact to preserve the beauty of the natural surroundings. Through the dedication of club members and partnerships with local authorities, the Mercer Area Sno-Goers have played a crucial role in establishing the region as a premier snowmobiling destination.

The Turtle-Flambeau Flowage Trail, a jewel in the crown of the Mercer Area Sno-Goers trail network, is a must-ride for snowmobiling enthusiasts. This trail offers breathtaking views of the Turtle-Flambeau Flowage, a pristine body of water surrounded by snow-covered pines. The serenity of the frozen flowage, coupled with the thrill of cruising on well-groomed trails, creates a perfect symbiosis of adventure and tranquility.

For those seeking an adventure, the Iron County Loop is a great option. This 100-mile loop takes riders through forests and frozen areas, offering a taste of the region’s natural beauty. The Mercer Area Sno-Goers takes pride in the trail system they have built and especially in sharing trails with other snowmobile clubs.

“If it was just Mercer, just 200 miles of trail, you’d get pretty bored with it and then you lose interest in it. But because there’s hundreds of trails that all link together, that’s what makes it work,” said Joustra.

Family-friendly riding

The Mercer Area Sno-Goers understand that snowmobiling is a sport for everyone, regardless of age or experience level. Families are warmly welcomed into the community, and the club actively promotes a family-friendly environment both on and off the trails. A big factor for the club is keeping the youth involved.

“We have quite a bit of youth members and youth involved in our grooming and our brushing,” Joustra said. “If you bring the youth in and they take out the garbage and they sweep the floor and have them do that kind of stuff, you’re not going to keep them interested. That’s how we gained our youth involvement. It was by giving them meaningful work to do and making it fun.”

The future

The Mercer Area Sno-Goers will continue to “make the best trails even better.”

“That’s our club’s slogan and it has been our club’s slogan for as long as any of us can remember, and that’s what we continue to do. We don’t become complacent in what we have. We’re always looking for the next great thing and we don’t always know exactly what it is, so we venture out in every avenue we can to try to come up with it,” said Joustra.