The state of Alaska seems like a custom-made land for great snowmobiling — with its monstrous size and its far-northern climate that gives it long winters. And, according to 2016 data from the International Snowmobile Manufacturers Association, the state does in fact have more than 64,000 registered snowmobiles (and there are many more in Alaska that are unregistered, according to snowmobile industry officials, but that’s a story for another day).
What the state may not have this year, however, is any funding for its infrastructure after a political squabble at the state capital.
According to a report this week in the Peninsula Clarion newspaper out of Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, Alaska Governor Bill Walker in June used his line-item veto powers to take $250,000 that was destined for the Department of Natural Resources to fund snowmobiling programs and threw that money into the state’s general fund. And, once it’s in the general fund, it’s unclear whether the money can be redirected back to the snowmobile program. In fact, state law prohibits earmarking money like that once it reaches the general fund, the newspaper reported.
The move has snowmobilers in The Last Frontier state upset — the cash is generated by the state’s $10 annual snowmobile registration fee. Do the math: Those fees are creating $640,000 in revenue, so even at $250k the snowmobile program isn’t getting back what it puts into the state coffers. But now — unless something changes — even the $250,000 worth of grants that normally go to snowmobile clubs to help pay for grooming, trail maintenance and safety education programs could disappear.
The state’s largest snowmobile club — the Anchorage Snowmobile Club — is urging its members and others to get involved in trying to pressure the legislature to override the governor’s veto. The club posted this on its website:
“The loss of State SnowTrac trail grooming funds this winter is a HUGE threat to our recreational use of ALL state land. Without grooming, not only will you not find a safe trail home, but many areas may be permanently CLOSED for winter use if grooming can’t preserve underlying vegetation in a low-snow year.” It then included a form letter that it suggested members send to their local lawmakers, as the Alaska State Legislature recently convened a special session.
This latest event in Alaska highlights why all snowmobilers should join a snowmobile club and keep an eye on local, statewide and national politics: Funding for trails can disappear quickly if those in the sport aren’t vigilant about watching the money.