I blame it on the neighbors! Snowmobiling in the Teanaway Valley

By Tracy Rooney

Hiking, biking, lift assisted and backcountry skiing are very familiar recreation activities for me. But snowmobiles? I kept saying I wasn’t a motorhead. I thought they were somewhat noisy and stinky. Not so much now — but certainly ten years ago before the riders’ desires for less intrusive snow machines made their wishes known. Hey, the snowmobile manufactures knew what was good for business, so they figured it out too. Less stink, less noise. It was no longer just about the adrenaline of horsepower but a broader form of winter recreation that could be shared by young and old alike.

Anyway, being a weekender in a valley that seemed like ground zero for snowmobiling and with my desire to get to know my neighbors better, I bought some used snowmobiles. It’s a ten year old decision that makes me grin every time I think about it.

As a newbie, I knew that I needed to get some “ride time” in before adventuring out with my then seven- and nine-year-old kids and somewhat skeptical wife. The neighbors were only happy to oblige and off I went. I had covered a lot of the local territory by foot and bike, but knew that winter conditions would be more challenging and unforgiving. What I hadn’t thought about was the distances that could be covered in a relatively short amount of time with snow blanketing the ground. It soon became clear to me that my list of favorite valley viewpoints was about to expand! I also quickly found out that snowmobiling wasn’t a sit down, passive sport. Just like in skiing, new skills would be required to get from point a to b. If you got your snowmobile stuck, it wasn’t as easy as just flopping over and pointing down the hill like you do when downhill skiing. But it was all good fun!

The extensive network of groomed logging roads in the valley is impressive. These well-defined trails made “doubling up” on each sled with a kid a great way to explore and build up confidence to check out new trails and vistas. Soon my garage seemed to have shrunk as we each had our own snowmobile and an expanded winter play area. While the colors of fall are hard to beat, the stark winter landscapes are even better.

At first reluctant to get involved in snowmobiling, I’m now one of the valley’s biggest enthusiasts. My initial concern regarding snowmobile interference with wildlife has been replaced with awe as I check out the tracks of the many animals that move around the valley in the winter via the groomed trail system. Having seen the combination of deer, elk, coyote, rabbit and now even wolf tracks on a trail is truly an amazing sight!

I’m also more relaxed with the knowledge that snowmobiling does not have to be in conflict with skiing and snowshoeing. It’s an awfully big valley. In our North Fork neighborhood the snowmobilers are often called upon to “break trail” for others who prefer the non-mechanized form of winter transport. And we gladly do so!

As a family, we all look forward to those annual sunny Teanaway holiday snow outings and the view of the Stuarts from Teanaway Butte, Red Top and other local landmarks. And as a neighborhood activity, I’ve been rewarded with a common bond that has led to a lifetime of close Teanaway friendships.

Snowmobiling has become a shared neighborhood activity. In the fall we gather to “brush out” trails. Once snow has fallen, and the risk of errant vehicles on the closed logging roads has passed, we get the gates unlocked and opened for winter fun. It’s truly an activity that spans generations. While he’s an anomaly, one of my riding buddies is in his late eighties!

The Yakima Basin Integrated Plan presents a rare opportunity for elected officials, recreational enthusiasts and conservationists to seek out common ground. Yes, as a snowmobiler and mountain biker, I’m reluctant to see thousands of acres of riding area closed by an expanded wilderness area. But as a realist, I’m very enthused with the prospect of also having what is currently more than 46 thousand acres of private timberlands removed from the prospect of residential development and forever protected for recreational use, expanded habit areas and continued use as a “community forest” with sound logging and grazing practices. It sounds like a fair trade off for “no access, private property” signs being something that my children and their children will not have to encounter in our extensive Teanaway backyard!

It’s all about finding common ground, tradeoffs that make sense and working towards goals that will benefit many for generations to come! The Integrated Plan has a lot in it for many. I’m in. I hope you are!

Tracy Rooney is a Teanaway Valley resident and active member of the Teanaway Snowmobile Club. You can view a map of groomed snowmobile trails in the area. Email richardlow5@gmail.com for more information about the Teanaway Snowmobile Club.

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