Sometimes it takes someone “from away” to increase your appreciation of what lies in your own backyard.

That briefly sums up the Snowmobile Trail Grooming Fund Survey conducted by Dr. Stephen Reiling of the University of Maine in Orono in conjunction with the Maine Snowmobile Association Trails Committee. During the past 15 years, resident registrations were up 8 percent and non-resident registrations increased by 156 percent.

Funding for the survey was made possible as part of the MSA Trails Committee contract with the state Department of Conservation this past season. When we experience a winter with adequate snowfall for good sledding, there are roughly 100,000 sleds registered each year. No other state in New England has this many registrations.

The number has grown significantly during the past decade. For example, in 1996 there were 78,575 sleds registered in Maine compared with 98,167 in 2009.

The amount of money that snowmobiling contributes to the Maine economy has increased along with the registrations. In 1995-96, snowmobiling brought in an estimated $226 million, compared with recent figures of $350 million.

Hotels, restaurants, gas stations and small stores, especially in rural northern Maine, benefit greatly from snowmobilers who either come from out of state or out of town.

The news was not all good — nor was it all surprising. The cost of maintaining these trails with grooming in the winter — and with clearing brush, cutting trees moving rocks, building bridges, installing culverts, etc. during the warmer months — can be expensive and time-consuming.

“We hear a lot of talk from our clubs, and funding is always top of mind,” said Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association. “We felt that the study was the best way to get some kind of handle on things.”

Most of the work on Maine’s 14,500 miles of trails is done by dedicated volunteers — members of Maine’s nearly 300 snowmobile clubs, as well as some municipalities. Clubs do receive some funding from the state through a portion of the registration fees and gas tax, but grooming is expensive. The cost of a new groomer can approach $200,000, and that doesn’t include the cost of gasoline to run it, plus maintenance and repair.

According to the report, the rate of reimbursement of trail maintenance costs for snowmobile clubs has varied from 45 percent to 70 percent of reported costs.

A major purpose of the study was to highlight that maintaining Maine’s quality trail system in the future will take more money. This could be done by increasing registration fees or by instituting trail passes, and other ideas are on the horizon.

“We’re still looking at the results and reviewing program finances,” said Meyers. “We hope to be able to come up with a consensus plan on how to proceed with the 126th Legislature.”

Cathy Genthner is the owner of River Bluff Camps in Medford, located off of ITS-83, and is licensed by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to guide snowmobile trips. She can be reached at:

[email protected]