Reed City Depot hosts thousands of snowmobile riders throughout sledding season

REED CITY — Trailers fill the parking lot, some riders are still unloading sleds while others zip by on the nearby trails and the smell of wood burning fills the otherwise crisp, cool air. It’s a typical winter weekend at the Reed City Depot. The depot has become a hot spot for snowmobilers, whether their taking a quick pit stop, meeting up with friends to head toward the next adventure or a destination in its own right. With so many people in one area — potentially needing assistance or perhaps a gentle reminder of state laws for snowmobilers — the Reed City Police Department employs an officer specifically to work at the depot as well as monitoring the nearby trails within the city limits. “If you don’t have someone watching and keeping an eye out, you have too many people not properly operating their machines, going too fast, things like that,” said Officer Jeff Chamberlain. “So it’s for the safety of everyone, really.” Chamberlain, who also is employed as a deputy for the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office, works on the weekends — the busy time — in his capacity as the snowmobile officer for the Reed City Police Department. He typically works about 10 hours between Saturday and Sunday and is paid by a grant the police department received from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “I’m happy to have the program, which provides safety and information to the community,” said Reed City Police Chief Chuck Davis. “It’s just nice. And the depot has become a sort of reunion place with people come from many areas to meet up, so it’s good to have someone here.”

DIRECTIONS: Officer Jeff Chamberlain offers a snowmobile rider information about the area trails along with suggestions of places to stop and eat.

While on patrol, Chamberlain uses a clicker to count the number of sleds using the Pere Marquette and White Pine trails. And even though he isn’t there 24/7 to count each snowmobile, the numbers he gets aren’t small, with hundreds often coming through each day. Although he has the ability to enforce laws and write tickets, Chamberlain admits most of what he does is public relations. “I’ve written some tickets for riding without a helmet, but when it comes to the trail permits, I’d rather run someone down to Shakers or somewhere nearby to buy a permit,” he explained. He also helps people who aren’t familiar with the area, offering suggestions on trails to use, where to eat and local things to do. “I try to keep people in Reed City when it comes to dining advice, so I point them over to the local restaurants, but I’ll also see what they’re in the mood for and where they’re heading so I can recommend some nearby places,” he said. “The Chase Creek Smokehouse is pretty popular.” The Reed City Depot has become a staple of the snowmobile trips taken by friends Don Hendrixson Jr. and Rick Welsh, along with their sons. “Every time we come through we stop. It’s rare to find a warm place to go to the bathroom right off the trails,” Hendrixson laughed. The depot is unlocked at all times and is equipped with security cameras to deter potential vandals, Chamberlain said. Hendrixson, of Logansport, Ind., and Welsh, of Union Mills, Ind., have been coming to Michigan for years to experience the splendor of the vast trail system. “There aren’t any trails like this where we live,” Hendrixson said. “It’s nothing like this. People just ride in the fields. We like to come up here for a mini-trip and then we do a week in the Upper Peninsula.”

WHERE TO GO: (Left to right) Don Hendrixson Jr., Jack Welsh and JP Hendrixson look at a map while Jack Welsh waits to hear where the group is headed next after having stopped at the Reed City Depot. The Reed City Depot has become a staple of the snowmobile trips taken by friends Hendrixson and Welsh and their sons.

Along with the perk of indoor plumbing, riders enjoy stopping at the depot to hang out around the fire pit. Local trail clubs donate the wood, sometimes using cut up trees which had fallen across the trails. While standing around the fire pit at the depot, the Hendrixson and Welsh tell Chamberlain about a gory scene they encountered earlier in the morning. “We were riding near LeRoy and we noticed all this blood spray, and then right after it were pieces of deer all over,” Welsh said. “It was pretty gross,” his son, Jack, adds while scrunching his nose. That’s just one reason to slow down on the trails, Chamberlain said.

CHATTING: Friends stand around the fire pit outside the Reed City Depot after taking a break from riding snowmobiles. Local trail clubs donate the wood, sometimes using cut up trees which had fallen across the trails.

At the fire pit, it’s a constant revolving door of snowmobilers coming and going. A group from Baldwin waits for friends to arrive from Grand Rapids so they can ride further north together. Another bunch take a short break to warm up before hopping back on the trails. Whether chatting with the riders, offering advice and assistance or enforcing the law, Chamberlain likes his weekends “at the office.” “I enjoy being with the people,” he said. “It’s good I’m there to ensure people are driving safe because the ‘little accidents’ can turn into big things with a heavy machine falling on you.”