Marginal Snow Year Leaves Money for New Equipment/Costs of Equipment Skyrocket

September 2015

Well, last snow season wasn’t the worst one in recent years, but it wasn’t the best, either. In November, it  looked like it was going to be a great season. The state got a lot of snow, and we were all hopeful for a great season to ride. However, with the exception of the western U.P., all of that snow quickly melted.

There was no snow in December in the Lower Peninsula and eastern U.P. During the holiday week (usually one of the biggest weeks of the season) most areas didn’t have enough snow to groom or ride. The only grooming being done was in the western U.P., and snow in that area was marginal.

Interestingly enough, areas in the central and eastern U.P. did catch back up, snow wise. In terms of snowfall, the northern Lower Peninsula, was down all year. That area just didn’t get good snow last year. In fact, it got less snow than southwest Michigan received. That area had good snow all season.

By March 13 all the snow in the Lower Peninsula was gone, and snow in the U.P. was melting fast. We had less snow, so less grooming was done.

Trails Groomed

The total number of miles groomed by Michigan’s 68 grant sponsors was 440,067, which is down from 585,258 miles groomed during the 2013-14 season. We groomed less, so we thought we would have more money to purchase equipment. However, as you’ll read, equipment costs have skyrocketed.

We were able to do much needed repair projects on bridge approaches, decks, and railings. Also keep in mind, the state’s groomers are getting older and more repairs are required during the season. The fuel cost to groom those miles of trails was $843,000.

Your Trail Permit Dollars at Work

Along with grooming, and equipment purchases, your trail permit dollars paid for all the trails to be brushed in the fall, signed per the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) specifications, and groomed all winter long. The total cost for all of this was $4.5 million.

Other costs involved in the program include brushing and signing, insurance, trail leasing, and snowplowing the staging areas.

Last season  84,674 trail permits were sold through the state’s point-of-sale machines. There were 1,762 trail permits sold through the mail, and there were 55,564 pre-printed trail permits distributed and sold through MSA; for a total of 142,000 trail permits sold. This is down from  145,958 trails permits sold the season before. We were down nearly 4,000 trail permits sold.

Please remember trail permit sales are still well below the number of trail permit sales in 2008, and we may never get those numbers back. During the 2012-13 season 136,033 trail permits were sold. We only sold 124,287 trail permits during the 2011-12 season. All of the revenue goes to the Snowmobile Trail Improvement Fund (STIF) NOT MSA.

Continuing to Provide Great Trails

We still need to keep in mind that when MSA worked to get permit increases in place back in 2006, those increases were based on those higher trail permit numbers, and so was the budget for buying equipment, signing, brushing trails, grooming, and maintaining the fleet of groomers!

The legislation put in place in 2006 does allow for a small cost of living increase to be added to trail permit fees beginning in 2016. Now that we believe we have a realistic grasp on our trail permits numbers, we are working hard to put a five-year plan in place.

Know that MSA, the grant sponsors, and volunteers are all working hard to continue and provide great trails in this state. It hasn’t been easy, but we will continue to work hard on your behalf.

Where Your Money Goes

Our DNR field contacts continue to work with us and check our trails. Our grant sponsors continue to maintain a close relationship with those field contacts. They work hard to ensure that everything runs smoothly.

 

Groomer and Drag Purchases

Remember when I mentioned that less grooming this season meant more money for equipment purchases; or so we thought.

Based on what we thought groomers and drags would, cost we created a list and went out for bids on 11 groomers and drags and four drags.

Last year the average piece of equipment (tractor) came in at $225,000, so that’s what was budgeted. Due to new tier-three diesel engines (EPA rules), increased steel, and increased production costs the equipment came in at $265,000 per unit. That’s $40,000 more per unit. Those funds are not in the snowmobile budget at this time. We are working to try and cut back and decided what area will get new equipment and what area will not. Dipping into next year’s budget (which begins October 1) is also being looked at.

At the time of this writing, we do not know what equipment will be purchased. The following equipment items were slated for purchase:

Big Bay 550 Snowmobile Club: groomer and drag

Munising Visitor’s Bureau: groomer and drag

Gogebic Range Trail Authority: groomer and drag

Allegan County Snowmobile Club: groomer and drag

NORMENCO: groomer and drag

North Country: groomer and drag

Chippewa Sno Kats: groomer and drag

Iosco County: groomer and drag

Cadillac Winter Promotions: groomer and drag

Hiawatha Trails: groomer and drag

TASA: groomer and drag

Tri County Snowmobile Club: drag only

Paradise: drag only

Cheboygan Trail Blazers: drag only

Edwardsburg: drag only

Continuing a Good Working Relationship

Let me also add that the Michigan Snowmobile Trail Improvement program continues to be administered under the state of Michigan’s Parks and Recreation Division.

We feel more comfortable there, because we are working with people who deal with trails in our state. We are building strong relationships, and feel a strong spirit of cooperation.

Currently, the Parks and Recreation Division is undergoing a reorganization process. We will be getting new managers of the snowmobile program. Those managers haven’t been named yet. Instead of one manager of the snowmobile program, it looks like we will have three people working together on our program — one for the U.P, one for the northern Lower and one for Lower Michigan. These people will be motorized trails recreation managers overseeing the snowmobiling and ORV programs. It looks like the state is finally realizing the importance of snowmobiles to the state of Michigan.

All in all, the snowmobile program is running and working well. The Snowmobile Advisory Work (SAW) group is now working with more realistic projected numbers for budget planning. The parks and recreation division is fantastic to work with.

MSA continues to monitor and make sure your trail permit dollars are not wasted, but keep in mind (as with any governmental program) part of our budget goes to state administrative costs within the state government. We promise to monitor and keep a close watch on your trail permit dollars!

What Is the Snowmobile Trail Improvement Program?

The Snowmobile Trail Improvement Fund (STIF) provides funding to maintain snowmobile trails as part of the designated statewide trail system. Grant funds are available for three purposes.

  1. Seasonal grooming and general maintenance of snowmobile trails.
  2. Special maintenance projects that improve the condition and/or access to trails.
  3. Replacement of equipment used for maintaining trails