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Trail Pass Assists Clubs
Trail Pass Funds Assist Clubs

This article was written when the trail pass for all trail users was put into law and still contains relevant information on the importance of the fee increase.  In the 2012 legislative session, the trail pass for Minnesota residents was combined into the registration fee - one fee, one sticker.  Out of state visitors are still required to purchase a trail pass.

Snowmobile Trail Permits Assist Clubs

from article by Karl Kierkhising of the Nevis Trailblazers Snowmobile Club

for Minnesota Snowmobiling newspaper, reprinted with permission


. . . . The state trail system officially opened December 1, but some gates may stay closed until good snow conditions allow.

A few reminders: Most trails are on or pass through private property, so please respect the landowners and stay on the trail. Remember landowners are kind enough to allow you to use their property, so be gentle with it or it will be gone.

New this year is the trail permit you must buy to legally operate a snowmobile on any state or grant-in-aid trail. You can buy a three-year permit for $31 if you are renewing your registration or are purchasing a new machine.

The trail pass idea was started and pushed by snowmobilers, clubs, and Minnesota United Snowmobilers Association (MnUSA), not the DNR or State Legislature. The DNR and the state had to be involved in the process because the money is collected by the State and distributed through the DNR to the local government sponsor (a city or county) and on to the clubs from the grant-in-aid funds, part of the snowmobile dedicated account.

Money for this dedicated account comes from your registration fees, 1 percent of the unrefunded gas tax, and now this year's addition of the trail permit.

Why is the money needed?

Everyone complains when the trails get rough, but most don't have an idea what it takes to keep them in shape, let alone even available to ride on. The following are some "did you know" questions that may surprise many:

Did you know:

  • The state of Minnesota has over 20,000 miles of snowmobile trails?
  • The state only has around 2,000 miles of state-owned and funded trails? . . .
  • Snowmobile Clubs built and maintain over 18,000 miles of trails in the state?
  • There are over 270,000 registered snowmobiles in the state but less than 20,000 people belong to a snowmobile club?
  • Club members volunteer their time and personal equipment to keep the trails clear of trees and brush, keep bridges in repair, and put signs up? This fall the Nevis Trailblazers put in combined effort of over 250 hours prepping the trails, not to mention the work we completed this spring and summer.
  • Clubs have to get all land owners to give permission to put a trail through their private land and secure land lease agreements?
  • Most trails are on private property and we are having a tougher time keeping these land leases signed due to the lack of respect some have for others land?
  • Clubs are shrinking in membership and are getting older in average age of its members?
  • Many think that the State takes care of the trails, when in fact it's snowmobile clubs that keep them up and going?
  • Clubs buy their grooming equipment? Groomers in the early '90s cost around $35,000 and now in 2005 cost over $145,000.
  • Clubs must have worker's comp insurance.
  • That a percentage of the costs are reimbursable from the grant-in-aid trail account?
  • Fuel and insurance prices have gone way, way up?

Oh, did I mention that this all costs lots of money to do? This was the main drive behind the annual trail permit. To continue to fund the cost of grooming and maintaining the present trail system. We wanted to fix it before it was broken.

Clubs have done a lot of hard work over the last 35 years and are very proud of the trail network that has been formed in this state and throughout North America totaling over 225,000 miles. We don't want to see the system start to fall apart and close down. This was a preventative measure to help ensure that you and others will have a way and place to enjoy the great winter outdoors through the sport of snowmobiling.

$32 a year ($16 for the permit and $16 for license and registration) is a small price to pay for 20,000 plus miles of a marked and groomed trail network. This also includes enforcement that we feel could be stepped up a lot.

Now, what is a grant-in-aid trail?

Over the past 35 years the 300 plus clubs in the state have built and maintained over 18,000 miles of trails. Some on state and county parcels, but most are on private property. Respecting the land is very important. Using private land is a privilege not a right. At any given time a land owner can shut a section down, and in many cases a reroute is not possible or is cost prohibitive.

Believe me, there are many clubs facing trail closures due to a few inconsiderate users who feel that if it is white they can ride on it. My advice is please stay on the trail as tempting as it may be to stray, it's that important!

In closing, the trail pass is meant to keep the trail system and the clubs afloat


. Without it the trails would disappear and the winter enjoyment of snowmobilng with family and friends would be gone. The economic impact of snowmobiling is a $1 billion annual industry in the state, from manufacturing, sales, lodging, dining, and so forth, employing over 8,000 full time jobs.
This trail is a combined effort between the DNR, a local unit of government, and local user groups (clubs). Here is how it works: A club needs to have a trail route planned, get approval from the land owners and have the land leases signed allowing the trail to pass through their private property and, I stress again, private property that the land owner can close at any time. They need to secure a local government unit such as county, a city or township to sponsor the trail system. Then the DNR will review the plan and in some cases need to do an EAW. The clubs pay for this. Once this is done and approved, the club can build the trail as long as the permits have been signed and the trail has been approved. This means cutting trees, removing stumps, mowing brush, building bridges, signing, putting up gates if needed and so forth. They also have to buy trail insurance as well as expensive grooming equipment. Clubs can apply for a percentage of the costs from the grant-in-aid account if they have been approved to do so, but most of the work is volunteer.
The cost of maintaining snowmobile trails is getting ridiculously expensive to fund. The snowmobile clubs cannot afford to continue maintaining the trail system with a funding system that has not seen enough of an increase to keep up with the rising costs of equipment, fuel, and insurance. Something needed to be done.

Minnesota United Snowmobilers Association
7040 Lakeland Avenue N., Suite 212, Brooklyn Park, MN, 55428, United States
Phone: 763-577-0185     Fax: 763-577-0186
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