BRIDGEWATER — The state’s snowmobile clubs
are preparing for the possibility that the New Hampshire Bureau of Trails
may impose up to a two-year hold on helping the clubs acquire new grooming
In a recent letter, Chris Gamache, chief of the NH Bureau of Trails, told the clubs that revenue from snowmobile registrations is down significantly, with January’s revenues being “the second-lowest in the past 12 years; only the winter of 2006/2007 was lower.”
The majority of the fee goes to the Bureau of Trails, which then gives it back to the clubs to maintain trails.
Gamache said his agency is evaluating a moratorium on capital equipment grants for 2017 and 2018; a decision will be made by sometime in mid-March.
“We understand club and riders’ frustrations; this has been a very unusual winter and the realities are that GIA (Grant In Aid) revenues are not what they need to be, having a very real implication for us all,” Gamache said.
Don LeClair, trailmaster of the Bridgewater Mountain Snowmobile Club for the past 14 years, said Monday he’s keeping his fingers crossed that there will be enough snow for some more riding this season.
The BMSC has been through some challenging winters, said LeClair, but “nothing to this extent. This has never happened before.”
Last season, LeClair said he was using his club’s 2007 Bombardier BR 180 groomer as late as the first week of April to groom the club’s 50 miles of trails in Bridgewater, Ashland, Bristol and Plymouth. This season, the groomer has sat dormant since early January.
With a replacement value of $175,000 to $200,000, the groomer and its 8-by-18-foot grooming sled are an important asset to the club, which is reimbursed by the Bureau of Trails at the rate of $42 per hour for operating the sled. The money barely covers the true cost, said LeClerc, but it is very helpful, as are the capital grants that helped pay for the groomer.
LeClerc said he understands the funding challenges Gamache faces and why the Bureau of Trails is weighing a freeze on capital grants.
Roger Wright, president of the New Hampshire Snowmobile Association and also of the Claremont-based Shugah Valley Snow Riders, said the capital grants from the trails bureau are very important to the clubs.
The good news, if you can call it that, is that many clubs are using their groomers less this season, eliminating some wear and tear; repairing groomers is not cheap, said LeClerc.
He said a rehabilitation of his club’s groomer cost $27,000; a replacement pump cost more than $4,000.
“But what the overall impact will be,” Wright said of the possible funding moratorium, “we’re unsure at this point.”
Last season, the Shugah Valley Snow Riders groomed trails well into the third week of March, Wright said.
This season, he said, “we haven’t groomed for the last probably four weeks.”
If registration revenues continue on the track they are, Gamache said, it is likely that grooming will not be reimbursable, nor should it be done after March 15.