ATVs and Snowmobiles: A Way of Life and Economic Engine

By State Sen. Darrel J. Aubertine

On Sunday, I visited the Big East Powersports Show in Syracuse with my family to get a look at the latest in snowmobiles, all-terrain vehicles and accessories. I couldn’t help but think about the first snowmobile I bought in 1969 and how much they’ve changed.

I’ve been to the show before, but the advancements from year to year always interest me. My first sled was a Ski Doo, so I took a few minutes to watch the video showing at one of the booths about the history of the company’s sleds. The turnout for the show was great and every booth there seemed to stress for me just how much the industry has grown in the region all around Lake Ontario, into the Tug Hill and up to the St. Lawrence River.

Snowmobiles have long been a major contributor to our economy but ATV use has emerged in recent years as a major player as well. A study done a few years back found that upwards of $11 million in payroll throughout the Tug Hill Region was supported by non-resident ATV use. Our area has become a destination for ATV riders and the local businesses—from dealers and repair shops to the local corner stores and restaurants—benefit from these riders coming into town to enjoy what we have to offer.

On October 1, the DEC re-opened about 1.8 miles of trails in the Winona State Forest Preserve that it had closed as part of a decision to keep ATVs off about 40 truck trails throughout Region 6. I opposed this move in writing and reached out to people in the department both locally and at the state level up to the commissioner advocating for critical connector trails to be re-opened.

Opening these trails known as the Wart and Hessel roads is vital to ongoing efforts to create a trail system linking Oswego and Jefferson counties. I have long supported efforts to create safe, well-maintained trail systems for ATV riders and snowmobilers so that each group of enthusiasts has a place to ride. I’ve even opened up parts of my own farm land in Cape Vincent for snowmobilers to use when I am not growing crops. Linking trails throughout Central and Northern New York is not only important to local riders, but with a unified system we are sure to see the economic impact grow.

Soon it will be snowmobile season and we will again see an economic benefit. That’s why I had also called on the governor to reverse his decision to take $1 million from the state’s trail maintenance fund that had been built up through registration fees paid by snowmobilers, not taxpayers. Snowmobile clubs use this money to keep the trails groomed and safe.

The governor in July came up with a way to return the money over the next three years and opened up additional funding for trail maintenance over the next two years by changing the way the money is distributed. This move should free up about $5.3 million for local clubs in 2008-09, compared to less than $2.9 million in 2007-08. The New York State Snowmobile Association thanked me and two of my colleagues for supporting them on this issue.

Part of what makes our area so special to so many of us is the outdoor recreation we can enjoy and it certainly helps our economy that these activities bring in so many visitors. This region of new York has abundant open space and outdoor recreational opportunities. I want to be sure we develop and preserve it for future generations.