Another “Weird” Snowmobile Season — Where Does Your Trail Permit Money Go?

MARCH 2018

The end of the season is here, and you are probably asking — “With another weird snow season, where did all my Trail Permit money go?”

You better sit down the answer to that question, is not a quick answer! The following column is an explanation of how the  $48 you and every snowmobiler spends on the purchase of a trail permit is spent!

First, if you purchased one of the shiny pre-printed stickers , $1 of the $48 stays with the agent that you bought the trail permit from — the gas station, convenience store, dealership, etc. If you purchase it from the Point of Sale (POS) machines, run by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), that $1 stays in the snowmobile program. Also, 47 cents of the trail permit is used for the printing and distribution of the permit.

Of the $48 you pay for the trail permit, that leaves $46.53. That money is deposited into the Snowmobile Trail Improvement Fund (STIF). This is a state fund that is a constitutionally protected  (thanks to MSA), which means that the money can’t be taken by any legislative body or the ggovernor and used for other purposes. It can only be used in the STIF fund.

Providing Great Snowmobile Trails

The STIF fund is what is used to pay for all the things that need to be accomplished to provide great snowmobile trails in Michigan.  They perform the actual work maintaining our snowmobile trails. There are 68 grant sponsors in the state. These grant sponsors include clubs, business groups, and a couple of municipal parks departments.

Why are they called grant sponsors? To get the money to them to maintain the trail system they are awarded grants. First, a grant sponsor must be a not-for-profit corporation or governmental unit in the state. They must expend money for signing, brushing, grooming, repairs, etc., and provide proof to the DNR managers to get reimbursed (issued grants) for the effort.

If we did not run the program as a grant program, we would have to have the Department of Management and Budget (DMB) put all of the maintenance and grooming out for bid. The low bidder would be awarded the project, and would be maintaining our trail system. In a nut shell, we would get what we pay for — decisions would not be made in the best interest of the snowmobiler!

Working Together on  Budgets

So, back to the STIF fund. The managers of the fund — the DNR, working with the Snowmobile Advisory Workgroup (SAW), and MSA — put together a budget for each of the 68 grant sponsors. The budgets are based on past snow and grooming history. Averages being used to create these budgets are about six weeks of grooming in Region 3, nine weeks in Region 2, and 13 weeks in Region 1. These managers formulate these budgets and encumber  )required to be spent on a stated thing in the future) the money from the STIF fund, essentially most of the STIF fund is locked up for the season.

Contracts are then written with each of the 68 grant sponsors. Work progresses through the season. Sometimes a contract needs to be adjusted for special maintenance, reroutes, additional grooming or other emergencies. Grant sponsors are reimbursed for their expenses to maintain the trails on a monthly basis, so they must be good at budgeting. They have to expend money before they can be reimbursed!

The contracts used take into account several different formulas, like one for signing and brushing that must be done each season. Again, this work is paid for after the work is complete. Grooming is another formula based on a per mile basis, and any special maintenance is based on quotes from other contractors.

What Happens After the Season is Over

The snowmobile season official ends on March 31. Do we allow grooming after that? I will say the DNR has, in a few instances, based on use and snowfall, allowed grooming after that date.

In April all of the grant sponsors must have their paperwork and final bills submitted to the DNR for reimbursement. As program managers, the DNR, now must make sure all of the invoices are good, close the contracts, and create a Grooming Cost Analysis for each of the grant sponsors. Any money left in the grants is then unencumbered and released from that contract. That happens for all 68 grant sponsors.

Once that all happens the SAW Equipment subcommittee and the DNR look at the reports and cost analysis for possible equipment replacement. The DNR budget department lets those groups know how much money was unencumbered, and what the STIF fund looks like in terms of money available.

Allowing for summer maintenance projects and possible emergency projects, a dollar figure is agreed upon. That number will be used to replace tractors and drags based on equipment status reports submitted from the grant sponsors and DNR field staff. In the past, we have been able to replace on average seven to nine pieces of equipment.

Hopefully, that process gets done by June 15 so equipment can get ordered. The DNR, SAW, and MSA are working on a process to cut a month off the current process to guarantee the equipment is on the ground before the next season starts.

That is where YOUR trail permit funds go! They do not go to the state general fund, and the DNR does not get a bigger budget to spend if we have a “weird” season. Yes, the DNR is paid out of this fund for managing the program, but MSA has made sure that the percentage is in line with management costs from  the private sector. We are your VOICE and will continue to keep Snowmobiling in #1 Michigan.

2018 MSA Legislative Ride

MSA is continuing their commitment to snowmobiling, making state legislators know just how important snowmobiling is to the state. Thirteen state representatives and five senators joined in on the ride on Feb. 8-10.

The ride was paid for by an International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association (ISMA) grant and generous donations. No MSA membership funds were used to finance.

MSA hosted, organized, and coordinated 14th state legislative ride, hitting the trails with our state legislators. The intent of MSA’s state and Congressional rides has not changed. MSA hosts these legislative rides to inform legislators about snowmobiling and give them a firsthand look at organized snowmobiling and marked groomed trails.

From the Seat of a Sled

The ride started in Indian River, traveling to Alanson to Harbor Springs to Pellston, and finally to Mackinaw City where they stayed the night. In the morning they traveled from Mackinaw City to Cheboygan and back to Indian River.

Along the way, the group stopped and toured groomer barns, looked at equipment, and were given opportunities to ask MSA officials questions. They even rode through the speed and curfew zone along the Mullet Lake trail.

These  rides have become an important educational tool for MSA. By taking state and federal legislators out on the snowmobile trails of Michigan, MSA is able to not only show they the incredible beauty of this state in winter, but reinforce the important $500 million economic impact snowmobiling has on this state.

MSA wishes to thank the followed organizations and businesses for their help with this year’s legislative ride: Harbor Spring Snowmobile Club, Moose Jaw Snowmobile Club, Cheboygan Trailblazers Snowmobile Club, Cheboygan Chamber of Commerce, Indian River Trailblazers, Indian River Motor Sports, and the Mackianw Trolley Company.