Carbondale’s Sopris Rec Riders hope to maintain Marion, SP Trails for generations to come (photo gallery) | PostIndependent.com

Carbondale’s Sopris Rec Riders hope to maintain Marion, SP Trails for generations to come (photo gallery)

Although a 52-year age gap exists between Mt. Sopris Rec Riders snowmobile club members Ernie Gianinetti and Eric Rudd, the two avid snowmobilers still share a mutual love of maintaining the SP Trail between Sunlight and Powderhorn.

"Let's just say I'm over 60," Gianinetti, who has helped keep the more-than-120-mile SP Trail alive since the 1980s, joked.

The 84-year-old Gianinetti explained how the nonprofit Mt. Sopris Rec Riders — based out of Carbondale — over the course of the last several years, had seen a rising number of SP Trail users but a dwindling amount of SP Trail maintenance volunteers.

It's a trend current Mt. Sopris Rec Riders Club President Rudd hopes to buck.

"As more and more people move into the valley, what we have found is that the [SP Trail] gets used substantially more," the 32-year-old Rudd said. "What we are running into is, we have a lot more trail users and as a result a lot more wear and tear that we have to maintain every year."

One of the club's biggest allies, quite literally, includes its snowcat, which Club Groomer Stephen Burns operates on the SP Trail regularly.

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To give one an idea of the SP Trail's popularity, in addition to spanning the distance between Sunlight and Powderhorn Mountain Resorts, the Electric Mountain Lodge near Paonia also recently reopened along the SP Trail's route.

"[The Electric Mountain Lodge] is smack dab in the middle, and we were really excited to see it reopen," Rudd said.

However, without the help of volunteers like those from the Mt. Sopris Rec Riders, simply put, the popular trail would lose its traction.

"[The SP Trail] is operated through a special-use permit," Rudd pointed out.

"In Colorado, the state maintains it with fees paid through snowmobile registration and then a small percentage from nonmotorized fees," he explained.

While the SP Trail may not get pummeled with users on weekdays, on a beautiful winter weekend it often does.

And, in addition to helping maintain the SP Trail, the Mt. Sopris Rec Riders also take care of the Marion Gulch Trail access west of Carbondale.

Much more than a "snowmobile club," the Mt. Sopris Rec Riders also welcomes dogsledding, cross country skiers and more.

"[The Mount Sopris Rec. Riders] is for anyone that wants to get out and enjoy the trail system. That is what we are gunning for," Rudd said.

As much as the club's members love utilizing both the SP and Marion trails themselves, Gianinetti and Rudd explain how club members equally enjoy maintaining them via the snowcat and snowmobiles with attached grooming drags.

"It's a total volunteer system," Rudd said of the trail system upkeep.

"We are totally dedicated just to maintaining the trails and maintaining their safety for the people out there that are using them."

Gene Schilling, another Mount Sopris Rec Riders member, who has also dedicated his life to public safety as the Carbondale Police chief, added, "We just want to make sure that the outdoor trails remain for generations to come."

mabennett@postindependent.com

Sopris rec riders fundraiser

What: Dinner, silent auction and dancing to live music by Caleb Dean

When: 6-10 p.m. Saturday

Where: The Orchard in Carbondale

Cost: $100 per person (event ticket includes a club membership)

Info: (970) 379-2411