Recently in Minnesota members of the state’s GOP proposed that hikers and bikers pay user fees to use state trails (not to mention they already pay for a park pass). I wouldn’t be surprised to see paddlers targeted as well for using state water trails. The reason the GOP cited was because snowmobilers pay user fees, everyone else should for fairness. I wanted to see how much snowmobilers pay and where the funding for the state’s 22,000+ miles of snowmobile trails actually comes from. The biggest source of funding is the gas tax paid by all drivers.
I put together this info chart from the data I was able to collect. The Minnesota United Snowmobilers Association makes claims that no funding comes from the general fund, but I can’t verify that claim. They also say that 13-14 funding was $14.6 million.
Paddlers, hikers and bikers are often targets of these users fees and the justification often comes when people look at snowmobile and ATV user fees. The snowmobile trails in Minnesota are groomed (after each snowstorm) and that grooming is paid for by the state, so just like xc skiing, it takes more work to maintain the trails than just general trail maintenance on a hiking trail.
I generally support snowmobiling, so I don’t mind paying gas tax for their trails even though I don’t use them. One of the reasons that I’m happy to support snowmobile trails with the money I pay via the gas tax is that the trails drive winter tourism just like hiking and biking drive summer tourism. And, tourism is big business in the state, especially in the area of the state that I live in. According to the UMD’s study of the economic impact of trails on the state, hiking usage leads, biking follows and then comes snowmobiling. There’s a big economic impact from the small expenditure on the state’s trail system. But if the GOP wants to make hikers, bikers and maybe paddlers pay user fees that cover the costs of the hiking and biking trails under the justification of fairness, then the snowmobilers ought to be covering their trails’ costs completely as well. The gas tax funding should be removed for snowmobile trails. Fair is fair.
The weird thing is that in Minnesota we pay for our hiking trails in part through a sales tax mandated by our state’s constitution. We recognized the value of the trail system and outdoor activities in our state constitution. We recognized the wisdom of the outdoor recreation philosophers who said that outdoor activities are important because they regenerate our “soul” and our health and that they should be practiced and celebrated.
A user fee on hiking is certainly regressive hurting those who can least afford it the most, and a hiking tax is a tax on an activity that our constitution promotes. That’s counter productive. In this case, the GOP would have hikers pay for a park pass, a hiking fee and a constitutionally mandated sales tax. That’s a lot of tax.
Direct link to the infographic is https://www.paddlinglight.com/shared/snowmobileinfocart.jpg Feel free to download and use as you like.
Size of the Minnesota Trail System
Minnesota is a nationwide leader in trail recreation, and was voted “Best Trails State” by American Trails in 2010.
Counting private, state, and grant-in-aid trails, there are over 30,000 miles in Minnesota’s total recreational trail system.
25 State Trails: 1,323 miles; 620 miles of this are paved; 560 miles are “Rail Trails”
Paved bicycle paths: 698 miles
Natural surface bicycle trails: 1,016 miles
Cross-country ski trails: 1,792 miles
Hiking trails: 2,600 miles
Horseback riding trails: 1,033 miles
All-Terrain Vehicle (ATV) trails: 1,314 miles
Off-Highway Motorcycle (OHM) trails: 625 miles
Off-Road Vehicle (ORV) trails (e.g., jeeps or trucks): 11 miles
Snowmobile trails: 22,253 miles