Hit the Trails
Snowmobile clubs, government agencies partner to enhance snowmobiling opportunities in Lake Country
WRITTEN BY MICHAEL RAHN | PHOTOS COURTESY OF MARK KAVANAUGH
IF ONE NEEDED PROOF THAT THERE’S STRENGTH IN NUMBERS, they need look no farther than the partnership between the member clubs of the Crow Wing County Snowmobile Trails Association (CWCSTA), the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and the Crow Wing County Land Department. This can-do combination has been working cooperatively and successfully to make roughly 1,000 miles of trails in Crow Wing and eastern Cass Counties a premier snowmobiling destination.
The outcome is not only optimum riding opportunities for local residents, but an attraction that draws visitors and revenue for such tourism-dependent businesses as resorts, restaurants, gas stations and more. Beyond local borders, the voice of the trails association’s twelve-member clubs is magnified by affiliation with the Minnesota United Snowmobilers Association (MNUSA), advocating at the state Capitol for legislation and regulations favorable to this winter recreational activity.
Despite the “Crow Wing” flavor of the association’s name, two of the twelve clubs in this Lake Country snowmobile confederation are based in Cass County. One of these, the Gull Lake Drifters, is the home club of Mark Kavanaugh, current president of both CWCSTA and MNUSA. Kavanaugh’s family has owned and operated Kavanaugh’s Sylvan Lake Resort since 1969, and has been a direct benefactor of winter snowmobiling visitors. By some estimates, as much as one-third of local winter resort occupancy can be traced to snowmobilers.
Aside from the social dimensions of membership in any one of the local clubs, keeping trails groomed and properly maintained is the central mission of the trails association. The byways they maintain are known as “grant-in-aid” trails, whose upkeep is funded chiefly by a return to local clubs of a portion of state revenues generated by snowmobile licensing, and gas tax revenue that can be attributed to snowmobile use. A special “trail miles” formula determines the amount of funds granted to clubs for trail maintenance, to be spent as they see fit.
“The DNR is the conduit for this funding,” says Kavanaugh. “No state general funds are used for grooming or trail maintenance; it basically all comes from snowmobilers.” Maintaining trails is not inexpensive, despite the fact that time spent by club members “brushing out” trails and driving trail grooming machines is volunteered. “Just the initial purchase price of trail grooming machines can be $200,000 or more,” notes Kavanaugh. The clubs generally purchase and maintain these machines themselves.
One of the manifestations of collective muscle flexed by local clubs and statewide MNUSA is influencing state lawmakers. Recently, the state legislature responded to lobbying efforts and granted snowmobile clubs an exemption from state sales tax, a benefit already enjoyed by such winter recreation providers as the state’s downhill ski areas. These private enterprises have enjoyed a sales tax exemption that, in an example cited by Kavanaugh, “could be worth $14,000 or more to clubs purchasing a grooming machine, funds that are better spent maintaining trails.”