Wyoming Snowmobilers Seek Fee Hikes To Fix Trails

News Kyle Roernik, Casper Star-Tribune
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Money for snowmobiling is melting away, hurting the state's trails for the vehicles, a snowmobiling group says.

Advocates for the sport are lobbying for state legislation that would hike the cost of permits up $10 for private riders and $30 for commercial outfits. The fees would likely raise $400,000 a year to help pay for the state to maintain Wyoming's 2,000 miles of snowmobile trails.

Instead of being a burden on the Wyoming economy, the new fees would help draw more people to come to Wyoming and spend their money on registration fees, restaurants, fuel and hotels, said Bert Miller, president of the Wyoming State Snowmobile Association. If Wyoming chooses not to invest in trail maintenance, snowmobilers from across the country may instead go to other states like Utah, Colorado and Montana.

Snowmobiling brings about $146 million to Wyoming per year and an additional $29 million related to the Wyoming economy, according to a study conducted by the University of Wyoming.

"We need to realize that if we want to have a world-class trail system, we have to go along with this," Miller said.

Fewer people have been snowmobiling in Wyoming, said Ron McKinney, trails program manager for the Department of State Parks, Historic Sites and Trails. The state saw its peak number of riders in 2002 with about 40,000 Wyomingites and tourists who used the trails. The number of riders has been on a steady downturn over the past decade. Only 33,000 people bought snowmobiling permits in 2012, and officials are projecting even lower permit sales for 2013.

Wyoming's budget doesn't set aside money for snowmobile trail grooming, so the state pays for trail maintenance through snowmobile registration fees and money from fuel taxes.

A boost in revenues would be a boon for the trails division. Each mile of trail costs more than $19 to groom, costing the state about $1.4 million, McKinney said. Another $800,000 pays for manpower and equipment.

The decrease in riders has cost the state millions in revenues that would have been used to groom trails, McKinney said. In addition to the $400,000 from heightened license fees, another $400,000 will come from the revenue earned from the new fuel tax approved by the state Legislature in February.

In addition to the decrease of revenue coming from permits and fuel, another worry for snowmobilers is the potential loss of $800,000 in federal grants from the Department of Transportation after the 2014 season.

Lawmakers on the Travel, Recreation, Wildlife and Cultural Resources Interim Committee are studying the proposal and heard testimony from snowmobilers across the state last week.

Rep. Allen Jaggi, R-Lyman, was opposed to a raise in fees.

"Snowmobiles bring a lot of revenue to the state," he said. "But I am concerned that people aren't getting raises and willing to spend more money."

Many of the state's trails are not groomed. Grooming less and spending less would solve the problem, Jaggi said.

"I am not in favor of raising fees because I am in favor of being innovative or living within our means," he said.

The committee will discuss the proposal at their next interim meeting in August.

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