By SIERRA RESOVSKY
Capital News Service
LANSING – Expansion of snowmobile trails could boost local economies, but may lead to conflicts about crossing private land as well, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) said.
In a move to head off such conflicts, a new state grant program will allow local governments and organizations to purchase permanent easements for snowmobile trails that cross private property.
According to DNR recreation specialist Ron Yesney, half of Michigan’s snowmobile trails are on privately owned land. And although easements are necessary to use those trails, that use is at the discretion of the landowner.
Twenty-five percent of the trail system is on state forest lands that are open to snowmobiling. The remaining twenty-five percent is categorized into five ‘scramble areas’ where an off road vehicle license is required.
“The state relies heavily on tourism money from snowmobiling each season. By purchasing easements and properties for usage, trails can become a more permanent source of income for local communities across the state,” said Yesney, who is based in Marquette.
Bill Manson, executive director of the Michigan Snowmobile Association, said that most of the funding for the grants comes from the $8 registration fee all snowmobile owners have to pay each year.
“This is the first year the people can access the grant now that the funds are built up. We have around $280,000 this fiscal year to spend and we look forward to it being put to good use,” Manson explained.
The grants are intended to ensure that parcels of private land are open to the public because owners, who may change, don’t always allow recreational activities on their land. Several landowners in the western Upper Peninsula are already cutting off snowmobile access to their property because of disruptions, according to Manson.
The DNR has no geographic priorities for awarding the money, nor a maximum grant allowance. Applications for this year’s grant cycle are due Nov. 15.
To promote participation in snowmobiling, the Snowmobile Association and Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC) encourage “take a friend snowmobiling” and “legislature rides,” in which snowmobilers invite lawmakers to experience the sport with them.
Drew YoungeDyke, the field and public relations manager for MUCC, said his organization supports the grant program and recreational snowmobilers because of the contribution to the local economy.
“Snowmobiling is the anchor for a town’s tourism economies throughout the winter months, spending money on lodging and restaurants to keep smaller communities afloat,” said YoungeDyke.
By SIERRA RESOVSKY