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Michigan Snowmobile Festival returns to Gaylord

Nate Johnston

After a two-year hiatus and below average snowfall, the Michigan Snowmobile Festival is coming back to Gaylord this weekend.

Since the National Weather Service office in Gaylord started keeping track of snowfall in 1998, the average accumulation in Gaylord is 36 inches for the month of January. This year only 14 inches of snow fell.

Business leaders and event organizers were panicking there wouldn't be enough snow for the festival.

"It was like a dagger in your heart once we saw this extended forecast a rain in 40 degree weather in mid-January," said Casey Buckleitner, owner of White Birch Outfitters and President of Gaylord's Merchant Association. "It was a nightmare, it was the worst because we're due for a good winter."

But the snow did come at the end of the month with plenty of time for the volunteer trail groomers to make sure they're ready for the festival.

"And that fluffy snow we've been getting regularly has really built up the trail and trails are actually in good condition at this point," said Christie Walcott, director of marketing for the Gaylord Visitor's Center. "And we're really happy with the job that the groomers have been doing with it," said Walcott.

Gaylord is considered the snowmobile capital of Michigan's lower peninsula. Otsego County is home to 99 miles of groomed snowmobile trails and, due to its central location, connects to an additional 500 miles of groomed trails throughout the lower peninsula, including the North Central State trail that takes riders to the Mackinac Bridge.

Walcott anticipates over 250 snowmobilers this weekend and said there is no data on how the festival impacts Gaylord’s economy. However, Buckleitner told WCMU all you need to do is look at the snow.

"If you look really closely at each individual snowflake it's actually shaped like a dollar sign and a cents sign that's what they look like when you look close. That's the way we think of it," said Buckleitner.

Snowmobilers begin hitting the trails Friday at noon.

Rick Brewer has been news director at WCMU since February 2024.