October 2015

It’s a question, every snowmobiler in Michigan has to ask themselves — How much are you willing to pay for smooth snowmobile trails in Michigan?

The cost of grooming equipment and maintenance continues to rise while funding for the Snowmobile Trail Improvement Program continues to remain the same, even decrease. The cost of fuel has stabilized, but the cost of equipment will continue to increase. Something has to change.

The average cost of a new grooming tractor, fully equipped with Soucy tracks now costs more than $265,000. In 2014 the average piece of equipment (tractor) came in at $225,000, so that’s what was budgeted this year. Due to new tier-three diesel engines (EPA rules), increased steel, and increased production costs the equipment came in at that higher price. That’s $40,000 more per unit. Those funds are not in this year’s snowmobile budget.

Last month I explained that we may dip into next year’s equipment budget to purchase all of the equipment, and that is what is going to happen. We will be able to purchase seven or eight pieces of equipment with this year’s funds and two or three will be purchased out of next year’s budget, which began on Oct. 1

All of that equipment will be on our snowmobile trails for this season, and if nothing changes, next year we will be forced to cut down on equipment purchases.

Aging Equipment

There are 68 grant sponsors who service the trails in Michigan. In the Lower Peninsula, those sponsors have 98 pieces of equipment in service. In the Upper Peninsula there is 87 in service.

That equipment ranges from 20 years old to new this year. All of that equipment has to be maintained, repaired, and replaced. Cutting the equipment budget will hurt smooth trails in Michigan.

This brings us right back to the question,  how much are you willing to pay for smooth snowmobile trails in Michigan?

Consider this, the total number of miles groomed by Michigan’s 68 grant sponsors last season  was 440,067. Every mile of trail was groomed 68 times (on average). This is done to make sure that your ride was what you have come to expect it to be in Michigan. Of course, this is just an average. On weekends there are some miles of trail that are groomed twice a day to make sure you get your bang for your “trail permit” buck.

Additions to the Trail System

Yet, another thing to consider is the continued expansion of our trails system. Every year we strive at bettering our trail system. This year we have two proposed trail expansions — both brand new trails.

The first is a 25 miles will run from Mesick to Copemish on the Benzie and Manistee trails connector which includes a bridge repair over Manistee river to tune of $1.5 million (This is being cost shared by other users.)

The second is a 15 mile connector north of Topinabee over to Pellston, connecting North Central trails and the North Western trails. This will not be done in time for this season!

There are several various new connecters in the U.P. in the planning stages. With additional miles to our trail system, comes additional access — and both carry additional costs.

Again, I ask, how much are you willing to pay for smooth snowmobile trails in Michigan?

I know that everyone is thinking — if you don’t have it in the budget, you need to cut back a little here and there. We have spent countless hours looking at where cuts can be made. We are at the point where drastic changes are going to have to be made. It is only a matter of time before the amount of miles groomed in Michigan is cut back as well as equipment purchases. Either way, our trails, your  trails will suffer.

In the March 2015 Legislative Column in this magazine I discussed the many of you read about proposal to raise the trail permit fee for those riders who are not members of the Michigan Snowmobile Association (MSA). Perhaps a better way to put it is a new discounted trail permit for MSA members. We have the legislation written and have sought a state legislator to introduce this legislation. To date, we cannot secure legislative sponsorship.

MSA Members Would Receive Discounts on Trail Permits

The MSA considers itself the voice of the Michigan snowmobiler! We feel that our members have molded the Michigan Snowmobile Trail Program into the best snowmobiling in the Midwest. While we were doing planning for the system, our neighbor states were figuring out how to reach their state snowmobilers to educate them on safety, clubs, trail news, trail etiquette, and other important information. Wisconsin, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, all passed legislation to offer trail permits to the members of the state association at a discounted price.

Proposed legislation reads:

The fee for a snowmobile trail permit sticker shall be discounted $25 if all of the following apply: The purchaser is a member in good standing of the Michigan Snowmobile Association, a nonprofit corporation, with an individual or family membership. In the case of a family membership, only the purchaser of the membership is considered to be a member for purposes of this subsection. The Membership is an individual or family membership. The sticker is sold by the Michigan Snowmobile Association as the department’s agent under subsection (8). An individual shall not purchase under subsection (2) more than the following number of discounted stickers for the same 1-year period unless the individual owns a number of snowmobiles equal to or greater than the total number of discounted stickers purchased: (A) If the individual has an individual membership in the Michigan Snowmobile Association, 2 stickers. (B) If the individual has a family membership in the Michigan Snowmobile Association, 4 stickers. (4)  The Michigan Snowmobile Association may require an individual to submit snowmobile registrations and vehicle identification numbers to verify the number of snowmobiles owned by the individual for the purposes of subsection (3)

Note: Permits will be $60 each; the discounted cost to an MSA member will be $35 if purchased through MSA, a certified Department of Natural Resources (DNR) agent.

The cost of a MSA membership is $25, add that to the cost of a $35 permit and both are equal — $60.

The incentive to be an MSA member is you can buy multiple permits at the discounted rate. MSA members will also get continuous updates on safety, education, new trails or closures throughout the year.

NOT a Tax Increase

After considerable discussion and calls to our state legislators, we are sad to report that we can’t find a legislator to introduce this bill. They are all afraid of raising taxes. Let me stress, our proposal is not, would not, be a tax increase. It is a “pay to play” system, and we already do that. We support our sport, and just want to assess ourselves differently. We have always paid our own way.

Our legislators have no problem taking $35 million of your hard earned tax dollars to invite everyone to come to Michigan; including inviting other snowmobilers to come and ride our trails. Yet, still they don’t want to let us invest in our trails.

Look to the November Michigan Snowmobile News for a list of legislators in our state. We will be asking you to call upon your state legislator and let them know how important this is to you and our smooth trails.

Let me put my earlier question to you in a different way. What is going to suffer if funding mechanisms are not changed? The groomed trails will suffer, and suffer greatly. Who is going to suffer if changes are not made? You the snowmobiler is going to suffer.