More cash available for snowmobile trails

Posted Dec. 11, 2008, at 7:05 p.m.

Maine’s snowmobile clubs and towns with snowmobile trails will receive much-needed additional funding this year to pay the costs of grooming and other activities.

Clubs will receive an additional $100,000, while municipalities will receive $285,000 more than was distributed last year through the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands’ snowmobile program. Those are equivalent to 12 percent and 8 percent increases, respectively.

Clubs can apply for the maintenance grant through Dec. 31.

The additional money is a result of registration fee increases approved by the Legislature last year in order to help communities and clubs pay the costs of trail maintenance. Fees for residents increased from $33 to $35, while fees for nonresidents rose from $68 to $88.

Last winter’s heavy statewide snows also lured more riders out onto the trails, resulting in more registrations, especially among non-Mainers. About 102,000 snowmobiles were registered last season.

“We had a spectacular year for new registrations,” said Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association.

The Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, which is part of the Department of Conservation, offers trail maintenance grants to about 270 clubs and more than 110 municipal programs. Those clubs and communities often rely on dedicated groups of volunteers to groom thousands of miles of snowmobile trails, often at night.

Maine has more than 13,000 miles of snowmobile trails.

“That means more money to help cover what we know has been increasing — fuel, insurance and equipment costs,” Scott Ramsay, director of the bureau’s Off-Road Vehicle Division, said in a statement.

Last year, snowmobile clubs and communities were grappling with the double whammy of heavy use of their trails and record high fuel costs for their gas-hungry groomers.

The Maine Snowmobile Association and representatives of the state’s Snowmobile Advisory Council had asked the Legislature for larger fee increases as well as a two-tiered registration system that would charge riders more if they were not part of a local club. The idea was to increase membership in the clubs, which are the backbone of Maine’s $350 million snowmobiling industry.

Meyers said Thursday that the 30 percent surge in nonresident registrations showed people are willing to pay more to ride in Maine even when much of New England had snow.

“They made a choice to come to Maine because we have a quality product and it’s affordable,” he said.

Fuel prices are down significantly from last year, but many clubs also faced other high trail costs since last year. Heavy use took a toll on some trails. But more problematic were the spring floods that washed away roads, trails and bridges.

The Bowlin-Matagamon Snowmobile Club alone had to replace five bridges and repair a sixth. The Seboeis River rose 10 feet overnight during the early May storms, destroying three major bridges that were all at least 100 feet long.

The club completed replacing those bridges last week with the help of funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, said club secretary Terry Hill. Now the club is preparing its trails in the Shin Pond, Matagamon and Bowlin areas for what Hill hopes will be another busy season.

“At this point we’re sitting pretty good,” Hill said. “We’re just waiting for the snow.”

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