Snowmobilers could have a much rougher ride on favorite trails because of a possible funding crunch.
The Flathead Snowmobile Association grooms several trails in the area, one of the most popular being the Canyon Creek route which runs from the North Fork to the summit of Big Mountain.
All told, it costs about $50,000 a season to keep the trails groomed. There's fuel expenses, the cost of hiring personnel to run the grooming machines and maintenance of the machines. A grooming machine alone costs between $250,000 and $275,000, notes Rick David, president of the association.
The budget for grooming comes from one of two places, explained David. About $20,000 comes from Montana gas tax revenue. The other $30,000 comes from the Recreational Trails Grant Program, which is funded through the federal highway bill.
But the highway bill has been cobbled together since the fall of 2009, when it expired. Congress usually passes a five-year plan for highways, but has failed to do so amidst much political wrangling.
Beth Schumate is the trails grant coordinator for Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks. She oversees the recreational trails grant money for the state. In years past, a host of trail projects, both motorized and non-motorized have seen funding. Typically the state sees about $1.3 to $1.5 million annually.
Now that funding could evaporate entirely, she said. It's really up to Congress. Trail projects across the state will see less money this year, she confirmed, including local snowmobile trails.
Unless Congress comes through with some sort of funding plan, the association would have about $30,000 less come next winter. And that means rougher trails, Hollman said.
Right now groomers hit the trails several times a week, working from about 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. so the trails are smooth by the time morning rides begin.
Without grooming, routes become washboarded - they have large bumps - which make travel slower and more difficult.
Tens of thousands of snowmobilers ride area trails each winter both privately and through guided trips, but the association only has about 90 members, David said.