Summer 2017 | 21 Bill & Mitzy Oakes Published in the 25th Anniversary Issue of VAST News, Spring 1992 - By Andrew Nemethy There's no title or position in VAST of "founding father and moth­ er," but if there was, Bill and Mitzi Oakes would certainly be nominated for it. It was the Oakes who started collecting names of snowmobilers from around the state and came up with the idea of forming them into an organization. It was the Oakes who pushed for the first statewide meeting of snowmobilers at Bolton Valley in late spring of 1967. And it was the Oakes who came up with the name, Vermont Association of Snow Travelers, and started publishing a mimeographed newsletter to keep snowmobilers informed. "Anti-snowmobilers were coming out of the woodwork," recalls Bill Oakes, "saying we were killing the mice, the bugs, the bees, the birds and everything. We were hearing so many antis, we had to get something going." What they got going was an organization that has now grown to one of the most respected, well-organized and active snowmobiling or­ ganizations in the US, with more than 15,000 members [22,094 in 2017] and 153 clubs [121 in 2017] and a trail system that is renowned for its scenic and extensive riding. Bill, currently Grand Isle director, [He sadly passed away in 2012.] and Mitzi, who became famous in her own right for her chatty, funny and opinionated "Ramblings" column in VAST News, had no idea things would end up where they are today. Explains Mitzi, who has been treasurer and secretary and remains as active as ever in VAST affairs, "First off, we just wanted to find people to snowmobile with. Bill always loved engines of any kind." around the area, which back then was all open farm fields, or he trailered to other areas to ride. "We had group outings out of here a lot," he recalls. Ten or 15 riders would show up and park in his yard and then just take off, and then they'd return and sit around the kitchen table and be sociable. During those talks, says Mitzi, the riders decided to organize one of the first clubs in the state, the Green Mountain Sno-Cats. "We were just going to get a fun group together," says Mitzi Oakes. "But then we realized that there were problems coming down the road, that some people didn't like us." A key moment in VAST's birth came when Bill Osborne of the Adirondack Snow Travelers Association paid a visit and warned "You really better organize or you're not going to have any sport." Bill Oakes had recently changed jobs and was driving all around the state. When he saw a place that sold snowmobiles, he'd stop in to chat and collect names. Slowly, he built up a list of fans of the new sport, and from that list pulled together the first-ever statewide meeting at Bolton Valley, which drew around 50 people. That meeting marked the foundation of VAST 25 years ago, and it also marked the first organized effort to control and promote the sport, and the election of the first president, Wayne Flynn. Mostly, there was a lot of talk about all the abuses and complaints snowmobilers were facing. "Everybody agreed that they had seen the same thing we had," says Bill. Those attending also discussed the fact there was no law governing snowmobiling. The sport was so much in its infancy, recalls Bill, that to cross the road, the state was requiring snowmobilers to get "motorized wheelchair permits," apparently unable to classify them any other way. The Oakes felt, along with many other snowmobilers, that there had to be some rules and control over where Bill Oakes saw his first snowmobile back in the winter of 1961-62, and the memory is still clear in his mind today, and it still makes him laugh. At the time, he was dairy farming in upper New York State and active in sportsman’s affairs and came to Vermont with some friends for a forum on deer. At the session, they had a couple of snowmobiles, though you'd hardly recognize them as that today. "It looked like an inverted manure spreader with big cleats and cross-links. There wasn't a two-cycle engine in the bunch. The things weighed 1,000 to 2,000 pounds. They were like an old work horse, a trac­ tor or truck." "I was quite impressed with them," he adds. In 1962, the Oakes moved to their home near the UVM Dairy Farm in South Burlington and began work for the University of Vermont, but no one sold snowmobiles in the area at the time. It was 1966 when Oakes got his first machine, a Moto-Ski. He built cargo sleds to haul around his three kids, and began riding