Learn more about how this snowmachine program is funded, managed
This month features as comprehensive a description of our present SnowTrac program as possible. I certainly am not the leading expert on the DNR structure and organization but will make every attempt to be informative and accurate.
The State of Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation, Alaska State Trail Office administers the Point of Sale Snowmobile Registration Program – internally known as SnowTrac,
The director, Ben Ellis, has two natural resource specialists in the state trail office, and for the most part, the majority of the program administration is done out of their office – coordination of the grant program, scheduling of the meetings, updating the operating procedures, etc. The Department of Outdoor Recreation has over 3.3 million acres of responsibility.
In addition to the SnowTrac program, the trails coordinator is also tasked with the same duties regarding the ORTAB (Outdoor Recreational Trails Advisory Board) more informally known as the Recreational Trails Program. SnowTrac has a citizen advisory board to advise the director on how the snowmobile program funding should be distributed; the ORTAB board has a similar setup: They are citizens appointed to give suggestions and advice but not empowered to drive changes within the program.
While the SnowTrac program is funded solely by the registration of snowmobiles through our state appropriation process, the ORTAB program is a federally funded program managed by each of the participating states. Much of the federal funding comes from gasoline taxes that are re-appropriated from DC to each state to be used to provide reimbursable matching funds to develop and maintain recreational trails and facilities for both motorized and nonmotorized trail use. Environmental, safety and educational projects are also authorized. We mentioned that the total funding source for SnowTrac comes from registrations of snowmobiles in Alaska; this number has been slated for issue at $250,000 per year. Last year’s ORTAB grants totaled over $830,000. As most of you are better at math than I am, you can guess which program garnished the majority of the DNR’s administration time and effort. Add into that the coordinator’s responsibility for other trail programs (nonmotorized) and you begin to see the pattern of time allocation that is a natural result of too many tasks for the time allotted.
There has been a historic cooperative effort between the SnowTrac and ORTAB boards that has allowed additional funding to come into the SnowTrac process from the ORTAB program. Federal guidelines require ORTAB to allocate a portion of their funding to motorized programs, and the SnowTrac program was one chosen to benefit. This program has seen its funding threatened and is likely to be much more limited in its grant process as well and the SnowTrac board has correctly inferred that the additional funding is not going to be unending.
So, the bottom line is that the $250,000 that SnowTrac has for program administration (12 percent) and grooming, trail creation and safety programs is getting squeezed by ever increasing demands for new trails, expanded grooming programs, and increasing fuel prices. When you consider that there are more miles of trails being groomed now than back when fuel was $2 a gallon, it is a measure of how far these dollars are now being stretched.
The 2013/2014 funding formula used by the SnowTrac advisory board reflected the reality of these impacts. The advisory board scored each grooming proposal and funded 15 grants from Chena State Recreation Area to the Trail Mix projects in Juneau. Once again, reflecting the realities of funding, the SnowTrac board was limited to allocating each grant at 75 percent of requested funding. There were no advisory board recommendations to fund any safety programs. Director Ellis was successful in transferring some funds out of an unfulfilled grant to give safety a nod, but only a small one.
As you can see, the grant process had developed into primarily a trail grooming program. That is not a bad thing in the whole scheme of things. Survey after survey has indicated that the trail grooming was where the majority of the public wants to see their money go. While the grooming requirements have a signage portion that is considered pertinent to the safety of these trails, it was the only concession to safety that was made.
While you can see how this has evolved, and taking into consideration that the current position giving grooming the lion’s share of funding is popular with the snowmobile community, it leaves a huge gap in the stated purpose of the Point of Sale program in regards to the commitment to both a statewide trail system as well as the biggest gap of all, a statewide safety program. Over the past few years, different safety programs have been suggested and several funded. They have all tended to be piecemeal programs that are difficult to gauge the success rate for and have not had a long-lasting impact on safety.
When the subject of increased funding comes up, the majority of the organized snowmobile groups in Alaska have expressed several caveats: That increasing the funding source through registration increases is supported by the majority of organized snowmobilers who want a successful program directed at snowmobiles.
That the increase in funding be applied directly to the programs being administered with an absolute minimum of administration fees being subtracted.
That a Statewide trail system consisting of the tree trunk of major trails supported by branches going off to local communities is a preferred goal.
That a Statewide Snowmobile Safety program is implemented as a part of the registration increase. This program must be transferrable and applicable for the entire state, regardless of geographic differences.
Next month’s edition is going to break down each of those caveats and include a recommended path forward for each one. For more information on SnowTrac, go to www.dnr.alaska.gov/parks/aktrails/index.htm . The minutes of the SnowTrac meetings are there. Pay special attention to the minutes of the 8/28/2013 SnowTrac meeting. These guys and gals are doing as good a job as they can under the circumstances. Next month we are going to begin the path to creating a better program that we can participate in with deserved pride.