By CRAIG FREILICH
Last winter’s lack of snow not only let down a lot of snowmobile enthusiasts, it also let down the organizations charged with coordinating trail maintenance.
As a result, St. Lawrence County residents are being asked to register new and used snowmobiles by Nov. 30 to increase the amount of money available for trail grooming this year.
The St. Lawrence County Snowmobile Association and its member clubs not only saw memberships drop, they also saw their share of sled registration money – used for trail maintenance – drop too, as fewer snowmobiles were bought and registered.
“Due to a lack of registrations last year, there was a lack of funds to be applied this year, to clubs all around the state,” said Debbie Christy, president of the county snowmobile association and trails coordinator for the county.
The snowmobiling community was buoyed this year by a report for the New York State Snowmobile Association by SUNY Potsdam that showed the huge economic impact the sport was having.
The report showed that the sport accounts for $245 million in annual activity in the Adirondacks alone, and that the average annual expenditure per snowmobiling household for a season is $3,561 and an additional $3,200 for sled expenses such as purchase price and towing. Sledding in the Adirondacks region accounts for more than a quarter of snowmobiling days spent in New York State, the study showed.
But one season without snow can turn that upside down.
“We do pretty well in St. Lawrence County trying to plan ahead for such issues, but if we get a lot of snow this year it will be hard to make ends meet, running groomers with their fuel and other expenses – Will we have enough money for that? We don’t know,” Christy said.
That is why she is asking those who might want to register a new or used snowmobile this year to do it before Nov. 30, the cutoff date after which the state starts distributing shares of the fees this year. And she is asking existing members to renew and for new members to join as soon as they can.
St. Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Pat McKeown is convinced it’s going to be a good winter for snow sports in the county.
“I saw three wooly bear caterpillars in the last week, and I know that means good snow,” she said.
She said she is optimistic despite the variables involved -- the weather, getting snow or not, what kind of snow will it be – and she is confident that “law enforcement will not overly ticket sleds this winter.”
McKeown was reacting to complaints from sledders last year about “whopping big fines” for having put their registration stickers in the wrong spot on their machines when she had a conversation with law enforcement.
She said she was concerned with vigorous enforcement, “especially on sledders from outside the area. I’m hoping this year they’ll be handing out the county map and saying ‘Welcome to St. Lawrence County’ because we need those tourism dollars badly.”
She emphasized she was not talking about letting up on enforcement of drunk-sledding law and speeding, “but on sticker placement, stuff like that.” And she said snowmobilers have to be respectful of private property and must get appropriate permissions.
McKeown said the effort the chamber, the county and people like Debbie Christy are putting into developing multi-use trails will have a big payoff.
As county trails coordinator, Christy at this point is mainly working with the variety of groups concerned with having and maintaining trails for their particular activities, such as sledding, biking, skiing, four-wheeling, and hiking.
“I’m mainly aimed at working on a multi-use trail from Franklin County through St. Lawrence County to Lewis County,” connecting some of the best snowmobiling areas in the state, but the work would not be just for snowsleds.
“I’m meeting with user groups who would be sharing a trail, to see if they are interested in becoming part of the bigger picture of what’s going to be happening in St. Lawrence County. Right now hikers, bikers, snowmobiles and ATVs all have separate trails. We’re looking at designing and building a facility for all different sports, and how to coordinate the needs of everyone.”
McKeown is fully in support of the effort.
“In five years people will be traveling on these trails all across the state, and we want them stopping here.”
More information on snowmobiling in St. Lawrence County, how to register a sled, a trail map, and links to members clubs is at the St. Lawrence County Snowmobile Association’s web site at www.slcsa.org.