With snowmachine ridership up, officials take stock of Lakes Region trailsFebruary 25. 2017 9:42PM
LACONIA – About a dozen state employees, lawmakers, and snowmobile association members mounted snowmobiles Friday and traveled more than 50 miles to see firsthand the state of the Lakes Region’s trail system.
Officials wanted to see how well several trail construction projects are going, as well as to see the ongoing work by volunteers from snowmobile clubs in the area. It was a group effort by stakeholders in the state’s $580 million snowmobile recreation industry, which continues to grow.
“We got a good look at what the snowmobile clubs do for the trails, how the communities and businesses support snowmobiling, and to evaluate what needs to be done going forward,” said District 1 Executive Councilor Joseph Kenney. “All of these departments have bits and pieces of our snowmobile industry, so we need to see how things are going.”
The riders were from the Division of Parks and Recreation, the Department of Transportation, the Fish and Game Department and the New Hampshire Snowmobile Association. They were joined by a representative from Gov. Chris Sununu’s officer, on what Kenney said is a continuation of a tradition started by the late Executive Councilor Ray Burton.
The snowmobile clubs in the area - and statewide, Kinney said - have combined their talents and resources to produce more than 7,000 miles of well-groomed trail systems. Meanwhile, state officials are working on improving aging snowmobile bridges and signage.
The group used freshly updated 911 maps of the trails, which are part of an effort to map all of the trails statewide in case of emergencies. The state has mapped 5,000 miles of the system so far. With the help of snowmobilers and their cellphones, trails statewide will be completely mapped by 2018, said Chris Gamache, chief of the Division of Parks and Recreation's Bureau of Trails.
The group had nothing but praise for snowmobilers in the state, who have carved out a winter recreation niche that is now more than half as large as the state's summer boating industry.
"It's really the volunteers that make this happen," said Fish and Game Major John Wimsatt. "The clubs have been working very hard to make this a great trail system."
But the activity is not without its dangers, especially when riders drive over ice.
It's been one of the more deadly periods for snowmobilers in recent memory after three men died after their machines went through the ice of Lake Winnipesaukee on Feb. 11. "We're all very saddened by those incidents," Gamache said.
Snowmobile association Executive Director Monica Jerkins said club memberships are well over 20,000, compared to 12,000 in last year's warm winter. Last year, the state had 23,000 snowmobiles registered. This year more than 46,000 snowmobiles are registered.
Gamache said the state has been working closely with the clubs to improve trails and to promote the industry.
"Most of the registration fees go right back into the trails," he said. "(On Friday) we were looking at a $60,000 (snowmobile) bridge project in Ashland, which was just finished, and we found some new improvements we have to make."
Jerkins said New Hampshire's snowmobile industry is unique, in part because the state is so involved. "I don't know of another state that has anything like this great system," she said.
Kinney said the credit goes to the volunteer trail maintainers, who work on the system in their spare time. Landowners abutting the trails also play a big role, he said, "because they allow snowmobiles on the trails, even though it's right near their property."
The sport of snowmobiling in New Hampshire is now drawing people from other states, much as summer activities do, Kinney said.