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      Snowmobilers ride in to the U.P.

      It's a welcome sight in Alger County--snowmobilers on the trails and in the parking lots of U.P. lodging facilities.

      "It's the snowmobile capital of the Midwest," says Chris Gerou. "We get people from downstate, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Ohio."

      According to Gerou, who owns Comfort Inn in Wetmore, about 75 percent of her business during the winter months comes from snowmobilers.

      "We need the snowmobile business in order to get through the winter and spring and make it back into the summer," Gerou stated.

      The Comfort Inn isn't alone.

      "The last two years were harsh on us with the snow arriving late," comments General Manager Ann Warzack of AmericInn. "Right now, we're seeing larger number of groups booking rooms than were individuals; which I feel that has a lot to do with economy. Individuals aren't planning trips as much as the groups are."

      Either way, the phone calls continue to come in daily, and Warzack says that they're already three-quarters occupied during the holidays.

      Also revving up for winter tourism is the America's Best Value Inn.

      "From what we're experiencing as far as the reservation-side of the business," states Damon Bowerman, "we're not seeing any slowdown for this future winter."

      All three businesses agree, too, that the falling gas prices are a contributing factor to bringing in more sleds this year than last. But, if things take a sharp turn in the wrong direction with either the economy or the weather, they're hoping that the current snow base will be strong enough to hold them through the season.