PITTSBURG — Like the state’s many ski areas, the stormy winter this year has blessed much of the 7,000-plus-mile snowmobile-trail system with plenty of snow.
This time of year, that doesn’t mean it makes for smooth riding though.
As of Wednesday, the state’s $1.7 million trail-maintenance fund was depleted, said Chris Gamache, chief supervisor of the New Hampshire Bureau of Trails. The fund, which receives a portion of fees from annual snowmobile registrations, makes grants to snowmobile clubs that use the money to do trail maintenance.
Many clubs also do their own, separate fundraising that allows them to continue grooming the trails, said Gamache, but the state’s support traditionally ends with the arrival of spring and/or when the maintenance fund is tapped out. Both events happened nearly simultaneously this year, said Gamache.
He said that the transition from winter into spring is also when private property owners – on whose lands about 85 percent of the state-trail system is located – start their maple sugaring and logging operations.
“Typically, the snowmobile season is done by the end of March,” he said.
It’s also when land-owner permission normally ends. A lot of land owners give permission until then, he said, but “as the snow melts, with the sun higher in the sky,” many of those same land owners are already moving on with their spring-time activities, which usually don’t include snowmobiles.
“This was a unique winter,” said Gamache on the first day of spring. “We had snow in the middle of December in the southern part of the state, which is not the norm, and here we have statewide snow (Thursday), which we do not traditionally see.”
Like ski areas, many of which may close in two-and-a-half weeks with skiable snow on the ground, the same is true for some snowmobile trails, Gamache said. Although unfortunate, “what you need to look at is that you’re at the point of increasing expenditures” to keep a ski area or snowmobile trail open, “without increasing revenues coming back in.”
Gamache said the North Country and Bear Notch in the White Mountain National Forest as well as the areas around Campton “are going to see snow for a while” before the inevitable transition to mud season, which itself is the precursor to the preparation for off-highway-recreational vehicle (OHRV) season.
Kevin Lassonde, a trail groomer and member of the Pittsburg Ridge Runners — which has more than 3,000 members and maintains some 200 miles of trails — expects his club to be grooming through April 1. “We’ve got feet and feet of snow, and we’ll probably end up riding into the first of May,” he said, “but it won’t be maintained that well.”