Snowmobile drivers will find a little less play room this winter when they head to the high country along Highway 4. And others – from cross-country skiers to snowshoers -who also enjoy the use of groomed trails, will find the outdoors reception a bit chillier than normal.
The reason: State money to groom trails is less than in prior years.
That means at least one popular trails area, the 18 miles leading to Spicer Reservoir, will be groomed only on the Martin Luther King Jr. and Presidents Day holiday weekends, according to Lonnie Allison, over snow vehicle manager on the Calaveras Ranger District of the Stanislaus National Forest.
The MLK Jr. Holiday weekend falls on Jan. 17, 18 and 19. Presidents Day weekend is Feb. 14, 15 and 16.
The 22 miles of groomed trails from the winter terminus of Highway 4 to Highland Lakes will continue to be regularly groomed as in past years.
Modern snowmobiles can traverse un-groomed areas easily enough, but many recreational users prefer to use groomed trails to access favorite play areas. So do others, such as cross-country skiers and even those hikers hardy enough to plod along the icy corridors.
State money for grooming comes from the so-called “green-sticker” fund, money specifically raised from registration fees paid on recreational vehicles from boats to off-road motorcycles, including snowmobiles. Last year, the Forest Service received $176,000 for its winter off-road program from the state Off-Highway Vehicle Recreation Commission. This year it got just $70,000.
The amount of grooming is of concern to Highway 4 merchants and lodge owners, since it affects the area´s attraction as a winter play area and the number of visitors who spend money here.
Snow and snow play areas are important to everyone who makes a living in the mountains, the Forest Service´s Allison said.
“For a lot of people up here, that´s white gold,” he said.
Efforts to impress that upon the state commission included a letter-writing campaign.
Dedra A. Davies of Pacific State Bank in Arnold was among those who took pen in hand and wrote the commission.
“I am the branch manager for the Arnold office and a member of all four business associations along the Highway 4 corridor in Calaveras/Alpine counties,” she wrote. “Our customer base stretches from one end to the other and I can tell you that the local economy here depends on winter tourism to sustain revenue.
“Your cut in funding is a major source of discussion in all the business associations and quite frankly the business owners are extremely worried about their continued ability to provide jobs to local residents, put money back into the economy here and provide a tax base from which the county benefits.”
Davies asked the commission to reconsider, saying “there are thousands of constituents living, working and raising children in this area, many of whom are dependent on winter revenue for their survival.”
Randell A. Hanvelt, a Bear Valley resident and president of the Bear Valley Music Festival, also wrote the commission, describing mountain merchants and the festival as “mutually dependent on each other for survival.”
“Many of the businesses are already threatened financially and desperately need all the tourism dollars they can get just to survive,” he wrote to the commission. “Lack of funding will undoubtedly reduce the recreational tourism in our area and severely impact the business community. This could easily destroy these businesses and cause the entire community some incredible inconvenience.”
He too urged the commission to reconsider, saying “no good can come from it realistically or politically” not to do so.
Calaveras Enterprise story by Buzz Eggleston. For more Calaveras news, click: calaverasenterprise.com