Letter: County should continue grooming snowmobile trails, not push it off on snowmobile clubs

ULTRA Snowmobile Club has existed in Becker County for more than 20 years. Before that many of us belonged to the snowmobile clubs that previously existed in the County. Many of us were responsible for mapping, obtaining easements for, clearing a...

ULTRA Snowmobile Club has existed in Becker County for more than 20 years. Before that many of us belonged to the snowmobile clubs that previously existed in the County. Many of us were responsible for mapping, obtaining easements for, clearing and signing the snowmobile trails that are used today. Three of our members are part of the Winter Trails Advisory Committee that meets monthly year round to plan and oversee the operation of the trails with the Becker County Park Board. The County manages the trail system and operates the groomers. ULTRA has learned that some within the county administration want to discontinue its involvement in managing the trail system and operating the groomers.

The state of Minnesota spends a lot of time, money and energy in promoting snowmobiling. They do this because it has a greater than one billion dollar economic impact on this state (MN Dept. of Tourism). The sport generates out-of- state dollars not only in tourism but also by virtue of two large manufacturers of snowmobiles which are located in Minnesota. There are 256,603 registered snowmobiles in this state (MN United Snowmobilers Association Snowmobile Fact Sheet).

A study done by the University of Minnesota in 2005 reports that snowmobiling creates 7,000 jobs in tourism and manufacturing in Minnesota. It generates annual state and local tax revenue of $51.7 million and contributes $501 million to the gross state product. Snowmobilers spend an average of $4,296 a year in equipment and related gear, not including travel (MN Dept. of Tourisn). A 2009 study by the MN Dept of Tourism estimates that the Northwest Region of Minnesota experiences an economic impact of approximately $41 million dollars just from trail use by snowmobilers. It is expected that those numbers will be significantly higher in 2011.

Becker County mirrors the state and for many of the same reasons should aggressively support snowmobiling within the county. There are three snowmobile dealerships in Becker County that sell snowmobiles, clothing, accessories, and do repairs. There are several shops that make repair of snowmobiles part of their businesses. BTD, TEAM, Audubon Industries and several other manufacturers located in Becker County make parts for the snowmobiling industry. These are major employers within Becker County providing income to residents and add to the County's tax base.

Snowmobiling brings in out-of-county and out-of-state dollars. An article published earlier this winter in the Park Rapids Enterprise details an interview with a group of snowmobilers primarily from Fargo. In that article they state they spend $300 each per weekend snowmobiling. They had just spent $200 on meals for the group in a local restaurant. They spend $50-$60 per day on gas. Groups numbering 30 or more come from the Twin Cities to to ride the trails in this area. Unlike some of the numbers being floated around by different groups, these are real numbers from real people, not a projection or estimate. Unfortunately the people in the article were mostly riding in Hubbard County.


Snowmobile dollars is a large part of the annual income for many businesses in the County. Resorts are especially dependant on drawing snowmobilers to this area. The two main factors that draw people to a particular area to ride is the amount of snow and quality of trails. We cannot control the amount of snowfall, but we can control the quality of the trails. The riders mentioned in the Hubbard County article could be spending their money in Becker County. To be fair the people mentioned in the article do often ride in Becker County.

The point is snowmobiling brings in major revenue which adds to the tax base, promotes employement and helps keep local resturants, resorts and motels full in the winter. We think we can all agree that keeping businesses in business is good business.

Becker County trails are not in poor condition. They could, however, be much better with the full support of the County and of course, volunteers. Most of us in ULTRA have been involved in snowmobiling for decades and have seen different approaches to maintaining the trails. It is our collective experience that the County is in the optimum position to properly maintain the trails and has the resources to so do.

The great part is that Becker County, for the most part, does not have to spend its own money to support snowmobiling. The state provides grants to each entity that grooms trails based on the number of miles groomed. The money is collected by user fees from snowmobilers in the form of registrations, trail stickers for instate and outstate riders and unrefunded gas tax. That means by promoting snowmobiling, Becker County can provide all the related business and jobs for its residents without spending local tax dollars for maintaining the trails.

What Becker County must do, however, is manage those grant dollars effectively to maximize the attractiveness of the trails so that out-of-county riders come here to spend their recreation dollars. Participating in the Grant-in-aid trail system is a win-win situation for the County Administration, the county residents and those who enjoy the sport.

ULTRA has been informed that some question the need for three groomers. In the past Becker County operated two groomers but has since taken on eighty plus more miles of trail. Eighty miles is about the maximum amount of miles a groomer should do in a week. Before this the two groomers were already operating at capacity. It would be impossible to adequately groom the trails with the additional miles with only two groomers. It should be noted that the County does not purchase groomers with local dollars but with Grant-in-aid dollars paid by the State to Becker County for that purpose. Remember also that Grant-in-aid dollars originate from snowmobilers, themselves.

Becker County has a vested interest in keeping the trails well maintained and well groomed. By continuing to manage the program the County can ensure it is done in a manner that promotes the sport, which supports and promotes the community. The County can at least partially provide work for County employees and other County residents with funds that come from the Grant-in-aid program.

ULTRA Snowmobile Club also has a vested interest. For more than 20 years we have supported the County's efforts with countless hours of volunteer work by signing and maintaining trails. We have truly worked as partners with the County. We have conducted Youth Snowmobile Safety Training for more than 30 years. We have raised funds to purchase drags used with the groomers and helped to purchase the groomers themselves. We have purchased and donated winter rescue sleds used by the County and local fire departments.


As a group we have earned the right to have input and be heard on these issues and future issues relating to snowmobiling. It is ULTRA's intent to continue to work in partnership with the County in maintaining the trails, but are steadfast in our position that the County maintain control and management of the dedicated snowmobile funds and the grooming operations.

-- Sincerely,Dick Schmidt, past president,

ULTRA Snowmobile Club, Detroit Lakes

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