Letter to Editor, May 2008

On March 6, 2008 in my capacity as Chairman of the Maine Snowmobile Advisory Council, I testified before the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee (I F & W) whose members are State Senators and Representatives. I was there to ask them to increase the snowmobile registration fees for both residents and non-residents alike. The Council had asked for an increase of $17 for residents and $32 for the non-residents. After almost 2 hours of testimony the Committee voted to raise the resident fee by $2 and the non-resident fee by $20 (of which snowmobiling gets $15).

I was happy with the non-resident increase but thoroughly disappointed and totally disgusted with the Committee’s approval of only a $2 increase for us “poor” Mainers. One Representative even went so far as to say that he was concerned about his constituencies’ ability to pay more to register their sleds. Duh! What about all of the Maine snowmobile clubs that are starving to death trying to groom the trails?? What about all of the volunteers who are ready to say “to hell with it”‘ because they’re burned out?

Unfortunately, our elected officials in Augusta are so out of touch with what’s going on that they can’t see the proverbial “forest for the trees”. Without a meaningful overhaul of our registration fees, including a separate fee for non-trail users (ice fisherman, trappers, etc.), our industry, and the MILLIONS OF DOLLARS THAT IT BRINGS INTO THE STATE, is on the verge of changing forever and not for the better.

My fear is that this past winter may be the last of the “Great Ones”. Although we, as clubs, are a resourceful and resilient bunch of people, the economics of the whole situation may bring us down to a point that we can’t recover from. I have heard of several clubs that are on the verge of collapse. The reimbursement rates for trail grooming and overall maintenance fall far short of actual expenses. Why is it that we only get 70% of the actual cost of doing something? The lack of money throughout the whole program, from Scott Ramsay’s office to the bank accounts of every club in the State, is the main (or should I say “Maine”) problem. A dwindling supply of volunteers is another huge problem facing our industry.

Riders everywhere expect great trails…some are willing to help financially with club efforts but few are willing to do the work necessary to make the trail system work in a safe manner. In club’s all across the State the same tired bunch of people are doing all of the work. Something has to change and it has to change soon.

Another of our industries problems stems from the fact that, as a whole, we’re a pretty apathetic bunch. Maybe it’s because we are volunteers, not paid staff members of some business or organization. It costs time and money to react to the stimulus that often confronts us. I sent out dozens of emails asking people to be present at the IF & W hearing, three people besides myself bothered to take the time to show up. Would the outcome have been different? Who knows. It sure as hell wouldn’t have hurt to have a whole room full of financially strapped groomer operators to back me up. Three people!

Elsewhere in this paper you’ll find my monthly letter in the club news section. Like the majority of letters in that section it doesn’t say a thing of any value. I know that snowmobiling is supposed to be fun but come on people, get informed and educated about the issues facing us. In order to survive, clubs are going to have to be run more like businesses and less like social clubs. Don’t get me wrong, the social aspect of clubs (and snowmobiling in general) has gotten us to where we are. The millions of dollars raised by clubs to benefit worthy causes have helped many, many people. But the first order of business is taking care of business. If the clubs are destined to fail financially due to lack of State funding how will they survive at all? Pot Luck Dinners and Poker Runs only go so far. We need to present a united front in Augusta and DEMAND more money for our efforts, THAT’S how we’re going to survive. And we all have to be involved, whether you like it or not.

For an interesting and “dead on” assessment of the current state of snowmobiling go to A Call to Maintain the Sport by Kevin Drew, President of the Swift Diamond Riders in NH. The man says it all! But, is anyone listening?
 
Rick LeVasseur
Millinocket, Maine

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