LAND O'LAKES - Eleven years ago, retired Col. Don Hamilton wanted to make sure veterans were appreciated across the Northwoods.
"Me and two other guys, we kind of were having a cold beer one day and said 'You know, we ought to do something fun for the veterans,'" said Hamilton. "Why don't we just put them on a free snowmobile for a day?"
So the three of them created a snowmobile ride for veterans and those closest to them.
"I always knew there was all these programs for the veterans, but very few programs for the veterans and [their] children and their family," said Hamilton.
Throughout the years, more and more veteran families came together to make this an annual tradition.
"This ride has grown from 17 riders in 2008 to more than 100 riders," said Hamilton. "Having an opportunity to do something with your family is really what motivates a lot of these service men and women to come up and participate in our event."
Dave Newman, the president of the Association of Wisconsin Snowmobile Club, said the biggest reward is watching families truly experience the Northwoods every year.
"A lot of these people have never been on a snowmobile before," said Newman. "We take them out there and show them what we do and show them how beautiful the Northwoods can be."
He added that the snowmobile ride has many veterans and their families invest in more time together.
"I know there's many families that went back home and decided 'Hey, let's go buy some snowmobiles. That was fun, let's do that all the time,'" said Newman.
As for Hamilton, he never expected such a high turnout after 11 years of this tradition. He just hopes that in another 11 years, the respect for veterans continues to grow as well.
"I really hope that others like me will share my passion to thank these men and women for what they do every day for this great country," said Hamilton.