Bill Clinton Says Join Your Ski Club
With the first hints of snow in the air and a few inches of the stuff on the ground, winter enthusiasts are getting ready for the season. Cross country skiers are waxing their skis and snowmobilers are changing their sleds’ oil. And folks are buying their trail passes. But that’s not enough.
Minnesota is blessed with hundreds of miles of great public trails running through thousands of acres of public parks and forests. These trails exist thanks to public investment and oversight. Minnesota policymakers were willing over the decades to preserve natural areas for the public good.
Regulations and conservation officers are there to prevent or put out forest fires and enforce the laws keeping, for example, a joyriding teenager with a big-tired truck off the freshly-groomed ski trail.
But that's only part of maintaining strong winter sports in public areas, which require more than the minimal level of public investment to remain viable.
Here's an example. Cross country skiers buy a day pass or a season pass from the state or the local park district. Snowmobilers pay for a three-year registration, plus an annual pass for use on state trails. Funds from the sales of these passes only cover a third to a half of the actual expenses of maintaining these trails. The city of Duluth, for instance, will get $11,000 from state ski pass sales this year, but total grooming costs for the year will be $20-$30,000.
As Bill Clinton put it in his 1996 State of the Union address, “The era of big government is over.” Clinton wasn’t talking about winter trails. But he could have been.
He went on to say "Self-reliance and teamwork are not opposing virtues," meaning that when communities want something they should work together to achieve it.
Who grooms the snowmobile trails on public land? Generally, it’s a local club. Who’s out trimming brush from the city ski trail in October, prepping for winter? It’s an amazingly hard-working volunteer from the community. Public investment helps provide some of the initial inputs to make this volunteer effort more manageable.
So if you like to ski or snowmobile, support your local club. A little bit of local cash goes a long, long way in the hands of a committed group of volunteers. Links to local ski clubs can be found here and here. Find a local snowmobile club here. Dues are typically tiny: $10 or $20. Tell ‘em Bill sent you.
Andrew Slade is Northeast Programs Coordinator for the Minnesota Environmental Partnership.