Snowmachine trail maintenance funding cut from Dunleavy budget
Gov. Mike Dunleavy's sharp budget cuts include one that's drawing fire from Alaska's community of snowmachiners.
Chugging along at 5 mph in a massive snowcat makes trail grooming very time-consuming.
“Some of us are getting too old for this,” laughed Dan Mayfield.
As the president of the nonprofit organization Big Lake Trails, Mayfield has been taking care of more than 40 miles of trail for a decade.
“We still have love for the trails though, that’s what keeps us going,” he said.
Running the large pieces of heavy machinery is expensive. Big Lake Trails relies on state grant money to fund a portion of their efforts. That money comes from snowmachine registration fees, which are a key component to the funding.
Mayfield said since the late 1990s, the Division of Motor Vehicles has collected the fees, then transfers them to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
DNR then gives the money to the Snowmobile Trail Advisory Council, known as SnowTRAC. SnowTRAC members distribute the money to about 16 organizations in the grooming pool, like Big Lake Trails.
Last month's budget proposal from Dunleavy, who had planned to snowmachine to his inauguration in Noorvik, eliminates a position associated with the snowmobile grooming grant program casting doubt about future funding.
“We hope to lobby the Legislature and the governor’s office to show them the importance of the program and who it benefits, how it benefits communities,” Mayfield said.
He also wrote a letter to the governor to ask him to reconsider the funding.
Snowmachiners said the groomed trails are safer for families to ride, which draws more people into their community.
“It impacts the business of the lake tremendously. The more traffic we get into the lake the more local business is supported. We need funding to keep trails as smooth as they are,” said Bill Heairet, a 20-year Big Lake resident.
Ruben Gutierrez, the owner of Big Lake Family Restaurant, said snowmachine traffic keeps many businesses going throughout the winter months. He worries what would happen without funding for the trail grooming.
“Nobody would like to come out there. They’d go somewhere else,” Gutierrez said. “Big Lake wouldn’t be Big Lake if we didn’t have people like Mr. Dan taking care of these trails for us.”
Mayfield said they’re asking for any extra money; they just want snowmachiners' fees to be used for snowmachine trails.
“Snowmachine users are not asking for a handout," he said. "We are self-funding our own program. We’re not asking for anything from the state government other than to allow us to self-fund our program.”
Mayfield said his love for the sport drives him to keep making the trails better for everyone. But, he said, if the state funding stops he likely can’t afford to keep going.
Dunleavy’s budget does not say where the SnowTRAC funding will go. The governor's press secretary, Matt Shuckerow, confirmed the cut via email late Friday evening. He added:
"This and other changes to the budget speak more broadly to the Governor’s desire to match expenditures with revenues, and to begin addressing the state’s $1.6 billion deficit. We look forward to having a healthy discussion with the Legislature as to what level of programs and services the State of Alaska can be provide in the face of our current fiscal reality."
Copyright 2019 KTVA. All rights reserved.