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Group ready to share winter special adventures with community

A volunteer brings a rider back from a ride on a special needs snowmobile ride in 2016. This year’s Winter Special Adventures ride is planned for Saturday, Feb. 4 at the Empire Township maintenance facility on County Road 66. (File Photo)

Despite the warm weather quickly melting the snow that's currently on the ground, volunteers from across the Farmington community are excited to welcome children and adults with special needs to the area this weekend for the Winter Special Adventures ride.

The ride is planned from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. this Saturday, Feb. 4, at the Empire Township public works building at 2577 Vermillion River Trail.

This is the seventh year of the program, but the first time it's being organized by the nonprofit group Winter Special Adventures. Organizers previously partnered with a local snowmobile organization, the Farmington Sno-Tigers, but decided this year to form their own nonprofit specifically for the annual program, said group secretary Teresa Schmidtke.

For many, the Saturday ride is a full-day event, and one of the only opportunities to experience outdoor recreation activities like snowmobiling.

"We wanted people who didn't normally have the option, with their special needs or handicaps, to do something in the winter they wouldn't normally have the opportunity to do," said Schmidtke. "Most of the people when they come, they come at 10 in the morning and are there until three in the afternoon — they ride all day long."

In 2016, there were more than 175 registered participants, along with 50 local volunteers. Each participant brings along a caregiver or family members, meaning the number of people affected is even larger, Schmidtke said.

When participants and their caregivers arrive on site, they're asked to fill out some registration materials, then get fitted for a snowmobile helmet. They can take a keepsake photo on a snowmobile set up inside the building, then head outdoors to choose from a number of different activities.

In addition to snowmobiles — or in the case of limited snow — participants can also take a ride on an all-terrain vehicle or the trolley from Dakota City. Representatives from the Dakota County Sheriff's Office and Farmington Fire Department will also be on site visiting with participants.

Before, during and after the ride, families can enjoy snacks of hotdogs, chips, cookies and hot chocolate, and warm up by fires set up around the site.

Schmidtke said the annual event draws people from throughout the region, including other suburbs of the Twin Cities and across the river in Wisconsin. The event is advertised at regional hospitals, but most participants come because of word-of-mouth excitement.

The event is put on by volunteers each year, many who like to come back regularly to help. This year, members of the Tiger varsity football team will be assisting, along with groups from area banks and businesses.

Learn more about the group and Saturday's event on Facebook at www.facebook.com/WinterSpecialAdventures or email WinterSpecialAdventures@gmail.com.

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