Houghton County Sheriff’s Office, dashing through the snow

Copper Country

HOUGHTON, Mich. (WJMN) – With the arrival of snow comes the Houghton County Sheriff’s office snowmobile patrol.

Deputy Matthew Tchida is the full-time snowmobile patrol officer for Houghton County Sheriff’s Office. He says they work closely with the DNR to maintain safety on the trails. He also responds to emergency calls.

“We go for around hundreds of miles throughout the trail system around here,” said Tchida. “Just basically being out there, being visible with the general public and interacting, doing law enforcement issues, but mainly just being out there being visible assisting the public in getting around the trail system.”

Deputy Tchida says he enforces the purchase of trail permits as well as keeping people on designated trails. He says many snowmobilers now are looking for off-trail riding and to explore different areas and sometimes they end up on private property.

“A lot of other issues that we have complaints are people riding on private property that they shouldn’t be out there doing or disregarding a traffic control device like stop signs, it’s important that a snowmobile stop at a stop sign because you’re a lot more vulnerable on a snowmobile versus an automobile,” said Tchida

Riding safely is one key factor in having fun on the trails. Deputy Tchida says knowing the sled you’re riding is important as well as wearing proper gear such as a DOT approved helmet.

“Understand that our trail systems here get pretty well beat up from a lot of usage, you have to understand that there is no speed limit on the trail per say unless it’s marked by a municipality there is no speed limit you just have to ride at a reasonable speed under the conditions,” said Tchida. “So we’ve had many people go super fast and if you’re not familiar with it and you hit a bump in the trail because they’re not all glass-smooth trails they get beat up, they turn into moguls, you’ve got to be able to control that sled because you can get severely hurt or even killed if you’re not riding properly.”

In the event there is an accident Deputy Tchida says if it’s minor and they can transport themselves to the hospital he may get called there to write up an accident that happened elsewhere.

“If its a bad accident I can get called out, if I’m not working at the time I can get called in to assist,” said Tchida. “A lot of times it’s getting first responders, medical personnel and what out there to and from a staging area to the accident scene because sometimes some of the trails are a long ways off from a road crossing and whatnot.”

Several other first responder agencies in the area are also well equipped to respond to emergencies on the trails according to Deputy Tchida. Aside from enforcing laws on the trails and responding to emergencies, Tchida says the most interesting part of his job is meeting people using the trail system.

“I’ve met people from New York, I just two weeks ago we didn’t have that much snow, I met a group of riders from Iowa, and down there they only get snow in the ditches so they were up here,” said Tchida. “I usually try to chat with those people just see where they’re from, what it’s like.”

Deputy Tchida says he even recommends places to stop and eat or different sights for visitors to check out. He’s the only full-time deputy on the snowmobile patrol but other officers do ride with him at times. The Houghton County Sheriff’s Office helps with the Copper Dog 150.

“Every year we do the Copper Dog 150 that runs out of Calumet,” said Tchida. “Our agency coordinates with other agencies, Keweenaw County Sheriff’s Office, local agencies in and around Calumet including first responders and what not, that’s pretty interesting it’s a big ordeal up there so we coordinate all those efforts and I have partners that ride with me and then I work with the DNR as well, but I have partners from my office that ride with me and we’ll have multiple officers on during big events, something like that.”

Each year Deputy Tchida rides between 1,500 and 3,000 miles on the trails. He says his first year was the most riding he’s done since taking over as the full-time deputy on the snowmobile patrol.

“I was so excited, gung-ho, I love snowmobiling and I just basically ran as much of the trail system as I could that first year getting familiar with it so if somebody called in a location I’m like I know exactly where it’s at so I know a place to go stage at,” said Tchida.

Deputy Tchida says with some of the trails being closed now due to property owners prohibiting riders or damage from the 2018 Father’s Day Flood there isn’t as much to ride any more but he is typically out in the afternoons during busy times.

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