Warm winters are forcing local snowmobile clubs to raise more money than normal to maintain trails.
Because there was so little snow last winter, less state money is available to local clubs in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed 2013-2014 budget. Funding for trail maintenance comes from snowmobile registration fees, which were down significantly during the last winter season. Registrations are up this season, but are still lagging behind previous years.
“This [winter] the local assistance portion for trail grants only has about 70 percent of the funds it normally has,” said Dominic Jacangelo, executive director of the New York State Snowmobile Association.
That low level of funding is because only about 90,000 snowmobilers chose to register their sleds with the state’s state Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation last winter. This winter they’ll likely be around 110,000 registrations, which is still short of the 130,000 average registrations.
All but $10 of registration fees, which are $45 for snowmobile club members and $100 for non-members, go to the state’s trail maintenance fund and are distributed to local clubs, which are responsible for trail maintenance.
Maintenance efforts by local clubs can include making new trails, putting in bridges and signs, and grooming trails. “Grooming also allows the trail to last longer because the snow gets compacted and it doesn’t melt as quickly,” Jacangelo said.
State Sen. Patty Ritchie, R-Oswegatchie, raised concerns about the levels of funding in the budget during a joint legislative budget hearing last week. Her concerns prompted state Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens to promise to work with her on this issue.
Ritchie raised the issue because tourism dollars are directly linked to snowmobiling, with people skipping areas that don’t have well-maintained trails. The tourism impact is $868 million statewide, with most of the spending in upstate, according to a study compiled for the New York State Snowmobile Association.
In response to this continual budget crunch for local snowmobile clubs, Jacangelo said, “The clubs are doing everything they can to raise money … to make the trails as good as they possible can make them.”
Even when funding for maintenance from the state is at normal levels, clubs are raising 30 percent to 50 percent of the money they need.