More permits need to be sold if snowmobile trails are to survive

By Joey Payeur
Staff writer

Dave Goodman isn’t trying to pull any kind of snow job.
The president of the Borderland Snowmobile Club had a dire message Monday for those who want the snowmobile trails that wind throughout the club’s massive territory to stay open past this season.
“We need to beat the total of approximately 75 people who bought trail permits last year,” he noted.
“This is a critical year,” Goodman stressed. “Without more participation in helping with the costs of running the trails, the trails are going to close. . . .
“We can’t operate at a deficit every year.”
The club became an amalgamation out of necessity five years ago that brought under its umbrella the smaller individual clubs operating in Fort Frances, Emo, Rainy River, Nestor Falls, and Mine Centre.
“The Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs says you have to have a minimum of 50 members to be considered a club in good standing,” Goodman explained.
“We only had six-eight people in a club to do all the functions needed, and that’s not enough to look after permit sales, handle the financial end, have a board of directors and a president,” he remarked.
Trail maintenance costs are funded by their membership, which spent more than $20,000 in operational costs last year.
That included such areas as maintaining the trail-grooming machine and the building it is housed in, plus fuel and other costs.
“All of our grooming was done as volunteer work by our members,” noted Goodman, who estimated 400 hours was spent on trail maintenance last winter.
With the club’s revenues only around $15,000, and the last of its financial reserves used up, the club had to get a $3,000 loan from the Northwestern Ontario Snowmobile Trail Association just to be functional this season.
The club was helped by an OFSC decision to sell early-bird permits for this season at a reduced rate of $180 up until Nov. 1.
Roughly 41,000 of the permits were sold provincially, with the BSC selling 52, or about 70 percent of all of last year’s total.
The permit fee presently is up to $210 ($140 for snowmobiles 15 years and older), but will rise to $260 and $170, respectively, after Dec. 1.
The biggest problem for the BSC doesn’t lie with those who are getting the permits—it’s those who refuse and take their chances of not getting caught while using the trails at no charge.
“To do that is illegal in Ontario and you can be fined for that,” warned Goodman, who noted snowmobilers in this province are fortunate they don’t live in neighbouring ones when it comes to permit fees and penalties for non-compliance.
“In Quebec, the [early-bird] permits are selling for $300 and the in-season passes are $360,” he noted.
“If you get caught on the trails, it’s an automatic payment of $460 or they take your snowmobile right there,” he added.
“The same pay now rule is in effect in Manitoba now, too.”
For those who complain about the high cost, with a common reference to the significantly-lower cost for a permit across the border in Minnesota ($16 U.S.), Goodman was glad to spell out the reasons for the difference.
“In Minnesota, the [Department of Natural Resources] funds the difference when it comes to the trail maintenance costs,” he explained.
“The Canadian side is totally user-funded.
“Sure, we could lobby the Ontario government to do it the same way,” Goodman added. “But they already put multi-millions into the trail system, just not enough that we could afford to charge only $16 for a [permit].
“How much should we expect from them to pay for our recreation?”
Goodman compared the need for charging for snowmobile permits similar to that faced by other recreational hubs in the district.
“Imagine if 25-30 percent of those who golf or curl locally wanted to use the facilities without paying,” he remarked.
“Those facilities would close.”
And if that fate befalls the local trail system, such as what Goodman said happened last winter in District 76 (which stretches for almost 500 km east of Thunder Bay), he warned those expecting a revival of the system at some point not to hold their breath.
“When it’s gone, it’s most likely gone for good,” he said.
“It’s a huge undertaking to get all of the property use permits back in place, as well as doing all the other behind-the-scenes stuff.”
Earlier this month, Hydro One didn’t appear to be helping the situation as it looked to introduce legislation that would force snowmobile clubs to pay 50 percent of the taxes on hydro corridors used by snowmobilers, as well as buck up for installing fences along the corridors and moving all trails 15 feet back from any hydro tower.
After much protest from clubs across the province, the provincial government said last week it would reconsider the proposal.
That gives Goodman hope more snowmobilers will come on board with the local club, especially since he believes the conditions are promising to be terrific this season for getting out on the trails.
“Because of the heavy snow we got last year, that usually translates into a good year the following year,” he noted.
“Last year was the first time a customer ever came into [Borderland Esso, which Goodman owns] and told me he put his snowmobile away in early April because he had had enough of winter.”
The BSC will held its annual general meeting last Thursday at 7 p.m. at the Emo snowmobile clubhouse.