Solstice 50

Rod Boyce's 11-dog team is seen near the top of the Compeau Trail during the Two Rivers Dog Mushers Association Solstice 50 sled dog race on Saturday Dec. 23, 2017. 

Alaska’s Legislature hasn’t yet decided whether money collected from snowmachine registration fees will go toward trail grooming next winter. 

Since the program began in 1997, Alaska’s tens of thousands of snowmachine owners have been required to pay a $10 per winter registration fee if they ride on public lands. Snowmachine organizations asked for this fee in order to create a pool of money for snowmachine trail grooming and snowmachine safety programs. But the money from the registration fees goes to the state’s general fund, not directly toward a trail grooming fund because Article 9 of Alaska’s state Constitution prohibits creating these types of “dedicated funds” in most cases. 

Traditionally, state legislatures have funded trail grooming programs at about the level paid by snowmachine owners. But the proposed budget announced by Gov. Mike Dunleavy in February didn’t include funding for trail grooming. 

Dan Mayfield is the co-chairman of the organization that governs the grooming pool funded by the registration fees, the Snowmobile Trail Advisory Council (SnowTRAC). Mayfield said Thursday he’s optimistic the Legislature will fund the grooming pool this season.  

“I understand there is a push on both the House side and Senate side to get that money restored to the budget, so I’m going to treat that as something that’s very deserving of optimism,” he said. 

Even if the registration fee funding is restored this year, only about $130,000 will be available, down from $180,000 last year because many snowmachiners have stopped paying their snowmachine registrations, he said. 

Mayfield also is president of the nonprofit organization Big Lake Trails and serves on the Matanuska-Susitna Borough Assembly. 

In Interior Alaska, the only current grooming pool project is the trails of the Chena River State Recreation Area. Grooming pool funds this winter were also used for the Denali Highway, which isn’t plowed in the winter and is popular with snowmachiners. In past years, the program funded grooming on the Alaska side of the Yukon Quest trail. 

At the Chena River State River State Recreation Area, if SnowTRAC funding evaporates next year staff will try to break trail to the public use cabins after significant snowfalls as time and staffing allow, said Northern Region Superintendent Brooks Ludwig. But he said there would otherwise be no consistent grooming.    

At the Fairbanks Snow Travelers snowmachine club, members were generally supportive of the snowmachine registration fee when it started 30 years ago. But with time, much of the organization’s 100-person membership turned against the registration fee and grooming program, said Steve Enochs, the Fairbanks Snow Travelers president and a former SnowTRAC board member. 

“It’s become an exclusive grooming pool that’s basically controlled by the membership of Southcentral, and they’re the main users of all the funds. North of the (Alaska) Range has gotten very little money,” he said. 

The Snow Travelers haven’t taken a recent vote related to the program in general, but the board voted unanimously this winter to voice their lack of support for HB 23, a bill in the state House that would increase snowmachine registration fees. That bill, sponsored by Wasilla Republican Mark Neuman, is based on the expectation that registration fee money will again be used for trail grooming.

Contact Outdoors Editor Sam Friedman at 459-7545. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMoutdoors