Funding rejected for snowmobile trails near Lake Tahoe
More than 50,000 snowmobilers who have been used to riding groomed national forest trails near Lake Tahoe may have to find their own way this winter.
A state commission last week rejected more than $400,000 for winter recreation programs in the Lake Tahoe Basin and along Highway 88 east and west of the Kirkwood Ski Resort and Carson Pass.
A U.S. Forest Service spokesmen said the decision could mean more snowmobilers will get lost or run into avalanche danger, cross into prohibited wilderness areas that won’t be patrolled with overflights, and disturb wildlife or the environment.
“When you groom trails, people tend to stay on the trails,” said spokesman Matt Mathes. “They’ll still be able to snowmobile; they just won’t have groomed trails. It’s a significant potential impact on the public and the land.”
Lake Tahoe Adventures owner Ari Makinen, who grooms trails throughout the basin for the state, said he’s unhappy with the commission’s decision, but hopes a resolution can be reached before the end of the year.
“It’s pretty unfortunate they had to go about it this way. A lot of recreational users will feel the effects of this,” Makinen said, adding that the issue has become political because of influences on the commission.
The Off-Highway Motorized Vehicle Commission rejected the grants sought by the Forest Service after several commissioners and cross-country skiers complained about the machines’ noise, pollution and speed, and a lack of equal access for non-motorized users. The bulk of the trail use is within the popular and increasingly crowded Tahoe basin.
For Performance Sleds owners Paul and Bev Morris, less trails groomed means less business for their South Shore operation.
The commission’s decision will hurt the snowmobile community because a lot of people who are older prefer groomed trails to non-groomed back- country trails, Bev Morris said.
“You have senior citizens and handicapped people who enjoy snowmobiling but will only do it on groomed trails,” she said. “What they are doing is taking the enjoyment out of the sport and that’s not right.”
The money would have gone to groom 118 miles of trails serving 170,000 acres in the Lake Tahoe region. Some of the trails have been groomed annually since the 1980s.
The rejection came on a split between three commissioners appointed by Gov. Gray Davis and three appointed by legislative leaders.
“It looks like the stuff is hitting the fan on this, the battle between the environmentalists and the off-road community,” said Don Amador, western representative of the Blue Ribbon Coalition, an off-road group.
A Davis spokesman, however, suggested the split was coincidental as commissioners followed their individual views on what’s best for the state.
Makinen said he will continue to groom trails at his own expense, but there will be fewer trails and they will be groomed less often.
“The company will absorb the cost, and we will obviously have to cut back the networks that get groomed,” Makinen said. “Hopefully they will be able to restore some of the funding by the end of the year.”
A seventh commissioner was absent, prompting the Department of Parks and Recreation to seek a legal review on whether tie votes mean the grants can be reconsidered at the commission’s next meeting Dec. 5-6, or whether the Forest Service can submit revised grant requests.
–The Associated Press contributed to this report
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