Trail Funding Letter to Maine Senate President Kevin Raye

Dear Senator Raye,

My name is Rick LeVasseur. My wife Debbie and I own a B & B called 5 Lakes Lodge ( www.5lakeslodge.com ) about 7 miles west of Millinocket. I am also President of the Jo Mary Riders Snowmobile Club ( www.jomaryriders.com ) and most importantly, I serve as Chairman of the Snowmobile Trail Fund Advisory Council. As such, I am fully informed as to the totally inadequate level of funding that continues to plague the DOC’s Off Road Vehicle Division, Snowmobile Program. I am writing to you in hopes that I can get your attention as I have been unsuccesful in all other attempts.

As you are probably aware snowmobiling in Maine represents an estimated $350 MILLION per year industry. It’s big business in many rural parts of our State, a fact that is easily overlooked by many members of the Legislature and the Senate. They live in the more “urban” and populated areas that normally receive little significant snowfall and as a result, receive little in the way of perceived economic benefit. About a year ago I wrote four different letters to Governor LePage, Commissioner’s Beardsley and Woodcock, Rep. Paul Davis and Sen. Doug Thomas explaining the dire situation that exists within the program. Not one of them bothered to respond. I later connected with Sen. Tom Martin and he submitted a bill last fall that was designed to aid the snowmobile program. It was dismissed immediately.

The snowmobile trail grooming program is financed 100% by snowmobile registrations. It costs a Maine resident $40 for the entire season and a non-resident is $88 for the season. Of the $40 resident fee the snowmobile program only gets about $21.

Here are some facts:

  • Over the last ten year period fuel prices have gone up more than 200% yet the snowmobile registration fee has only increased by 33% (from $30 to $40)
  • It is cheaper for a resident of New Hampshire to ride in Maine as a non-resident ($88) than in his own state ($96 which includes mandatory membership in a snowmobile club)
  • The same is true of Vermonters only they have to pay a total of $165 to ride in their home state.
  • It costs more to fill a snowmobiles gas tank just ONE TIME than it costs to register that snowmobile for the entire season.
  • The vast majority of Maine’s 14,000 miles of trails are groomed and maintained by Volunteers. This volunteer base is aging rapidly and is being asked to GIVE more than at any time in our industries history.
  • The VAST MAJORITY OF MAINE’S SNOWMOBILERS are willing to pay more to register their sleds IF that fee increase goes to the snowmobile program.

Mr. Raye, I don’t how much you know about snowmobiling in today’s world but think about this. The average snowmobile now costs between $9000 and $10,000. The average rider spends $150 – $400 for a HELMET and double that amount for a snowmobile suit. They travel great distances in $30,000 – $50,000 vehicles hauling $3000 – $10,000 trailers to get to their favorite destinations. They spend hundreds of dollars per day for gas, food & lodging. The snowmobile registration fee is the LOWEST SINGLE COST  associated with owning a snowmobile. Snowmobilers can and will pay more to ride the trails if the Legislature and Senate would just allow them to.

Snowmobile clubs across the State are hurting financially and my club is no exception. This years grants have been reduced by 15% due to the low level of snowmobile registrations as a result of poor snow conditions this winter. Off road diesel prices are the highest that we have ever seen. We, as groomer operators, are expected to provide the public with a high level of trail maintenance with ever increasing costs but with no increase in the funding available to us. ‘Do more with less’ no longer works.

As Chairman of the Advisory Council I have worked diligently to seek an increase in funding for the Snowmobile Program. In 2008 LD 633 saw the registration fee go up from $33 to $35. In 2009, without the support of the MSA, I pressed forward with LD 823 and saw the registration fee go up by another $5 to the current level of $40. This level of funding is completely inadequate today. Fuel costs alone are killing most of the clubs. My club is in danger of not being able to make the mortgage payment on one of our big groomers. In the past I personally have stepped in to help the club financially but unfortunately, we can no longer do that.

We need more money, it’s as simple as that. Maine cannot let an industry that has been built on the backs of volunteers go by the wayside as a result of indifference on the part of the Legislature.

A fix is also simple. The current MOSES system at I F & W can easily accomodate a new registration. Leave the current $40 registration as is but call it a non-trail registration. This would be available to ice fishermen, trappers and others who never use a funded trail. Develop a new “Trail Registration” for anybody who does use a funded trail in Maine. Set the level of this registration at $65. This would still be $31 cheaper than in New Hampshire (where they have 1/2 the miles of trail that Maine has). Take $5 of the new fee and send it over to IF&W for increased enforcement of existing laws on our trail system. The extra $20 in new funding would go a long ways in helping clubs survive and to make up for the more than $2 million imbalance in what clubs spend vs. what they get reimbursed for.

I know that you are a busy man and that time is running short for this session of the legislature. However, if something isn’t done and done soon, snowmobiling in Maine will not exist as we know it today. Businesses in the rural, snowy parts of Maine are struggling to make it. Snowmobiling helps many of us during the lean winter months. Without adequate funding for trail grooming and maintenance we will see a significant loss of this valuble winter business. Snowmobilers want good trails and are willing to pay for it. Just give us the chance to do so.

I look forward to your response.
 
Sincerely,
 
Rick LeVasseur

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