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November 18. 2012 9:07PM

Snowmobile club volunteers kickstart NH's economic engine

Snowmobile clubs and their volunteers are being credited with helping bring in $586 million a year to the state's economy.

There are 114 such clubs in the state, which groom and maintain a massive trail network of over 7,700 miles, according to a report released by the New Hampshire Snowmobile Association.

The study was prepared by Dr. Mark J. Okrant, and Dr. Daniel S. Lee of the Plymouth State University Institute of Studies and was recently presented to the state's Executive Council.

"This is an industry in the state of New Hampshire that is run by volunteers," noted Chris Gamache, who heads the state Trails Bureau. "It is all funded by user fees by people who love their sport."

He gave the example of nine miles of new trail the Colebrook Ski-Bees will groom this year between Colebrook and Stewartstown. The club removed the rails and ties on the abandoned, state-owned rail corridor.

"In the past we could use the corridor only when there was lots of snow," Gamache said. "But now that the rails and ties are gone, we can use it with just a few inches."

That could extend the season in that area up to a month, he said.

While the state kicked in $40,000 for contractors to remove the rails, Gamache estimated $12,000 to $15,000 worth of volunteer hours went into the project.

The amount of money available for projects depends on the number of registered vehicles. Registrations pay for the maintenance and upkeep.

There were 56,645 registered sleds between May 2010 and April 2011, according to the study. That is down from a high of about 70,000 over the past decade.

The study relied upon surveys mailed to a representative sample of license holders. More than 1,000 who answered indicated average spending per day at $79 for in-state and $114 from out-of-state travel.

The study indicates snowmobiling accounts for 5.2 percent of all traveler spending in the state.

Gail Hanson, executive director of the statewide organization, said clubs are now busy with chain saws and heavy equipment preparing for the season.

The trail system officially opens Dec. 15 statewide, but there has already been some limited riding in the far north.

Other trail projects being completed include a three-mile route through Bridgewater and a three-mile section through Rumney, which had to be moved to the west to avoid the new Groton Wind park, Gamache said.

At a recent meeting of the Governor and Executive Council in Northfield, outgoing commissioner of Resources and Economic Development George Bald noted that the Trails Bureau and the clubs have a wonderful partnership that helps tourism.

"New Hampshire is regarded nationwide as having one of the best trail systems," Bald said.

Bald said there are twice as many miles of snowmobile trails in the state as highway miles.

"We have 3,500 miles of highway, so we have double what DOT has," he said looking toward Department of Transportation Commissioner Chris Clement.

Hanson noted that a trail completed by volunteers along Route 3 in Coos County will allow for all-terrain vehicle use. The state now has over 1,000 miles of ATV trails, Gamache said.

ptracy@unionleader.com


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