It’s the economics

In the middle of this past fall, I was out with a group of fellow supervisors doing “general maintenance.”  As we were headed to one point, the topic of conversation was what weather we might expect this winter.  I said “If we have a good snow, this place will be busy. ”  When one of the others asked what I meant, I pointed out that if we went another few miles down the road we were on, we’d be at the entrance to one of the major wilderness snowmobile trails.   He said “You know, I really hate snowmobiles.  They’re noisy, polluting, and I wish they weren’t allowed up here.”   I replied “Yes, but you have to understand something.  They also drop a hell of a lot of money on the local economy.”

Which is something that sometimes various environmental activists forget.  It’s not that anyone really loves them, except for their riders and local businesses.    It’s that their presence turns this area from a “one season” tourist destination into a “two season” one.   My fellow supervisor suggested cross-country skiers, and I said “Good idea, except it doesn’t work.”  Why?

Here’s why.  Snowmobilers come up here to run long trails.  They have to register their snowmobiles, and there’s a pretty hefty price tag on that registration.  They don’t complain, because a sizable percentage of that fee is designated for trail construction and maintenance.  They come here, stay several days, and spend money at the local shops and restaurants.  They also tend to do this as a group.   As one of the other people in the vehicle pointed out, if you were to come here in mid-January, one of the restaurants we’d passed would be packed on a weekend.

What about cross-country skiers?  We have trails for them, but here’s the problem.  They don’t pay any fees for trail maintenance or construction.  They also tend to be “day trippers.”  That is, they drive up in the morning, park, go skiing, return to the vehicles and go home.  They might stop along the way to grab a sandwich or a cup of coffee at one of the convenience stores.  They’re mostly solitary or in pairs.   In terms of the local economy during the winter, cross-country skiers are a miniscule percentage, and in terms of overall costs, a negative.

So while from the “pure environmentalist” standpoint, as well as someone who isn’t fond of the noise, I’d be thrilled to death if the snowmobiles disappeared, I’m also more than aware of the benefits they provide.   I don’t live in a vacuum.  Many of the stores, restaurants and other things I use daily are only in operation because there’s a “winter economy” which the snowmobilers fund.  Their trails, and the money to maintain them, also are used during the summer as hiking trails and access roads into various areas I need to go to.   So I – and the other residents here – benefit from their presence.

Which is why even though I work in the environmental field, I have to say “no” when people talk about banning snowmobiles up here.  Now, if various “environmentally friendly” enthusiasts were to start paying for their trails, and spending that sort of money in the local economy?  Then you’d have a firm leg to stand on, and I’d even be willing to back you.

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