How can we provide the trail maintenance and grooming snowmobilers now expect?

On Monday morning I met with Rep. Paul Davis, chair of the IF & W committee, to discuss what I feel is the ongoing “lack of funding” situation with the Snowmobile Program. I called him after looking at my own clubs “funding Vs. spending” for this season. This year, the Jo Mary Riders received a municipal grant for $37,000 and a club grant for $3,750 or $40,750 in total. In grooming hours alone we are owed over $47,000 ($69/hour x 688 hours). In pre-season trail work/maintenance we spent over $12,000 in REAL money, this does not include any labor. Our bill for off-road diesel is over $15,000 for the season. In July mortgage payments on two groomers are due totaling $25,000. Ridership on our trails is ever increasing yet membership in our club has fallen two years in a row. How long can we keep this up?

So, I called Paul and we met in Milo and talked for a couple of hours. He was not sold on the idea of asking Maine snowmobilers to pay any additional $ to ride our trails. But after listening to what I had to say and looking at the charts that I provided (copies attached) he agreed that something should probably be done to help the clubs financially with their grooming efforts.

We discussed the pros and cons of several possible solutions. My feeling was that, because the Moses System was already in place, we should go for a two tiered registration system; a trail registration for anyone who wants to ride a funded trail in Maine and a non-trail registration for trappers, ice fisherman, etc. Along with this we would have to press for a new law that would make riding on a funded trail without the proper registration, a violation of the law. I suggested a fine of at least $100 to give folks an incentive to buy the proper registration to begin with. I also suggested a price of either $60 or $65 for the trail registration and the current $40 for the non-trail registration. (At this point there is NO talk of increasing the non-resident fees except that a 7 day non-res registration needs to be put into the system). The additional $20 or $25 from each trail registration would either go to the Snowmobile Program completely or may have to be divided up with a little going to IF &W for “tweaking” the Moses System and/or to put a little more money into the enforcement budget (more Wardens on the trail).

At the MSA annual meeting last Saturday in Medway, the directors voted to increase dues by $3/family. So the MSA will now get $15/family vs. the $12 that they have been charging. This was done to help offset their budget problems. Membership in the MSA is on a downward swing. Probably the same is true with most clubs in Maine. We are seeing fewer new members joining and fewer existing members volunteering to help.

Unfortunately, the workload is not going down and the burden of trail maintenance and grooming is on the shoulders of fewer people. So the question that I posed to Paul was, “How are the clubs of Maine supposed to provide the snowmobilers of Maine with the same level of trail maintenance and grooming (to which they have become accustomed) if membership in clubs is declining and funding levels continue to be inadequate and growing worse each year?”

The only answer is MORE MONEY.

In various informal polls that have been done in Maine, most snowmobilers are more than willing to pay more for a registration fee IF the additional money goes to the trails. A resident of New Hampshire pays $64 to register his sled PLUS has to show proof of club membership OR he has to pay $94 for a registration. In Vermont, a resident has to pay three fees to ride the trails; a $20 registration fee, a $25 club membership fee and a $85 VAST trail pass fee for a toal of $130. And their registration fee is going up $5 for 2012 and the VAST pass is going up $15. So for 2012 resident Vermonters will pay $150/sled to ride their trails.

How come we can ride in Maine for $40 on a trail system that’s at least twice as large?? In my opinion it’s ridiculous. With the cost of an average new sled being over $9000 and the cost of a tank of gas at $40, how can anyone expect to ride our trails for a whole season for just $40??? A one day adult lift ticket at Sugarloaf is $77 and a season pass( unlimited) is $1099. I wonder if their groomer operators and lift attendants are “Volunteers” ??

Why do I have to pay $67 to register my 19′ boat when nobody grooms the lake or marks the obstacles or even cleans the beaches. But when I pay $40 to register my sled I have a certain level of expectation that I will have well groomed, well marked and well maintained trails. This is an unrealistic expectation and it only applies in Maine.

I just wanted all of you to know that I am taking this “crusade for more funding” upon myself again because if something isn’t done soon, we are going to witness the collapse of snowmobiling in Maine “as we know it”.

This is an industry, not a pass time. Snowmobiling is big business. The registration fee is the single lowest cost associated with operating a sled. Even a $25 increase will have little effect on that fact. If we don’t get something going in this session of the legislature there will be no new money for the 2011-2012 season. And, heaven forbid, if we don’t do something in the next session it will be several years before an infusion of new money finds its way into the program. My fear is that it will be too little, too late. My hope is that we can be united on this issue and press for rapid change.

Rick LeVasseur

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