SMALL TOWNS: Townsend snowmobile club receives prestigious honor
With Action 2 News anchor Jeff Alexander set to begin his recovery from ankle surgery, in the coming weeks we’re looking back at some of our Small Towns stories from its first year. We begin in the Northwoods with a report that originally aired on February 17, 2022. It was our third Small Towns report.
TOWNSEND, Wis. (WBAY) - There are more than 600 snowmobile clubs in the state of Wisconsin and thousands more across the country. But there’s one in Northern Wisconsin that is second to none.
In this week’s Small Towns, we travel to Townsend to meet the Red Arrow Snowmobile Club.
Whenever there’s a fresh blanket of snow in Townsend, it’s considered a gift from heaven.
And it’s been this way since 1968 and the founding of the Red Arrow Snowmobile Club.
“Our forefathers started it all and we just kept building on it over the years, and everybody is doing their own little part through the 53 years to make it a better club,” says Gary Wagner, Red Arrow past president.
“My dad was one of the original members of this club back in the 60′s when it started,” adds current club president Bob Berth.
Berth points to many reasons for the club’s staying power.
“What makes this club tick are its members, the business people in Townsend, the town of Townsend itself, the forest people, the state government, our trainers. It’s a conglomeration of everything involved in one club,” explains Berth.
More than 500 members make up Red Arrow, pretty impressive considering Townsend’s population.
“With the last census we just broke 1,000 population, so they’re going to have to set up a second voting ward,” says Wagner with a chuckle.
Truth is, the club’s reputation has attracted many members from outside the area, including other states like Michigan, Minnesota, Illinois and even Tennessee.
Their participation in this winter sport is vital to Townsend.
“The community has been behind us 100 percent, because when we bring the snowmobilers and the ATVs up here they go to the bars and restaurants and the gas station, the motels, and the economy flourishes,” says Sandy Wagner, Red Arrow past membership secretary.
Named after the famous World War II 32nd Division, made up of Wisconsin National Guard members, Red Arrow maintains 60 miles of trails.
While state grants help cover some of the cost, two major fundraisers keep the club thriving.
“The Saturday of Labor Day weekend every year we have our annual corn roast down the road at an establishment, and that draws from communities all over the state. I mean, you can’t find a place to park in town, it’s just slammed and these major events keep us going,” says Gary Wagner.
Thanks to those fundraisers, the club owns two trail groomers, valued at over half a million dollars.
And four to five nights a week, dedicated maintenance crews are out making sure the trails are in top-notch condition.
“I don’t crack the whip so much as I worry about when these guys go out at night, they’re out until two in the morning, sometimes about three in the morning. I’ll wake up and go, ‘Where are you guys?’” says Red Arrow trail boss Mike Malueg.
In 2018, Red Arrow was named Wisconsin’s Snowmobile Club of the Year.
Last June, it received the National Snowmobile Club of the Year honor in Omaha, Nebraska, and that’s not all.
“And I was on stage there, gave my little acceptance speech, and I turned and I was going to get off the stage and there’s a lady standing there. She said, ‘Hold it right there, Mr. Wagner, we’re not through with you yet.’ I said, ‘What?’ and she came up to the podium and said, ‘My name is Joanne Smith. I’m the president of the International Snowmobile Hall of Fame in Eagle River, Wisconsin, and every year we choose a club as our international club to be inducted into our International Snowmobile Hall of Fame in Eagle River, and guess what, Red Arrow you’re it this year.’ I was just speechless,” recalls Gary Wagner.
Fresh off their prestigious awards, members of Red Arrow are enjoying the fruits of their labor on their sleds whenever they can, yet with a commitment to the club’s future always in focus.
“Sometimes we feel like we’re doing a lot of work an we’re doing a lot of things but when we step back and look at everything we’ve done, we’ve got to smile because we’re pretty happy with the way everything turns out,” says Berth.
“It’s definitely a labor of love. You have to have a lot of dedication and got to want to do it and a love for the sport,” says Sandy Wagner.
“It’s a club. Club is family. It should be,” says Gary Wagner with a smile.
After spending some time with members of the Red Arrow Snowmobile Club, it’s easy to see why they’ve received the recognition they have.
This is a club centered on dedication and filled with humility and gratitude.
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