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Jefferson County snowmobile clubs receive more funds than last year but program remains in flux

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A state program that helps snowmobile clubs maintain trails in the north country has bounced back after a disappointing season during the winter of 2012-13, when aid was down 26 percent.

But the immediate future of the program, which is funded by snowmobile registration fees, is still somewhat uncertain.

Last year, snowmobile clubs in Jefferson County received $53,135 from the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation — a sum that was down 26 percent from the $72,110 the clubs received in 2011-12 and well below the nearly $100,000 they received in 2008-09 during the program’s most lucrative year.

As the economy slowed, the number of snowmobile registrations diminished, said Stephen C. Lewis, director of snowmobiling for the state Parks Department.

The funding lags a year, with money collected during one season distributed during the next.

Registration costs $100 if you register a snowmobile on your own or $45 if you pay an additional $25 to join a club; $10 of each fee goes to the Department of Motor Vehicles while the rest is distributed to the state’s network of snowmobile clubs through the counties in which they are established.

The amount of money snowmobile clubs received in 2012-13 was so low because there were so few snowmobile registrations in 2011-12.

“2011-12 were absolutely horrible for registrations,” Mr. Lewis said.

Only 90,433 sleds were registered that season.

The following season, the number of registrations jumped to 116,725.

This season, Jefferson County will receive $73,640, a 72 percent increase over the $53,135 it was awarded in 2012-13.

But Mr. Lewis said that he is nervous because only 92,000 snowmobiles have been registered thus far this season — 4,000 fewer than were registered at this point last season.

And with the end of the department’s fiscal year on March 31 rapidly approaching, the prospects of meeting last year’s mark are disappearing.

Part of the problem with the lower registrations this year may be explained by the strange weather patterns the state has experienced over the last few months.

Jerri E. Lothrop is president of the Thousand Islands Snowmobile Club, one of the four clubs that receive funding for trail grooming expenses through the state’s program.

The other three clubs are Winona Forest Recreation Association, Barnes Corners Sno-Pals Snowmobile Club and Missing Link Snowmobile Club, Carthage.

According to Mr. Lothrop, the ice storm the county experienced in December, as well as the two thaws it experienced afterward, caused lots of problems for the trail system.

“The ice storm really hit us hard,” Mr. Lothrop said.

The trails maintained by the club were closed for two weeks because of fallen branches and downed trees that had to be removed.

Paradoxically, the large amount of snow that this area has received in recent weeks does not necessarily translate into more snowmobiling, Mr. Lothrop said.

“A snowmobiler’s perception of weather can be different than a normal person’s,” he said.

But while disposable income is much more constricted now than it was through the 1990s and early 2000s, when snowmobiling hit its stride, the sport remains popular, and snowmobile trails in the Tug Hill region have remained open throughout the season, according to Mr. Lewis.

The state recently launched a $4.5 million advertising campaign aimed at promoting the region’s winter sports, including snowmobiling.

After announcing the media blitz, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo even went for a ride on one of Lewis County’s snowmobile trails and became the first governor ever to ride on the state’s trail system, according to Mr. Lewis.

The ad campaign is targeted at city dwellers and residents from other states.

Purchasing a New York snowmobile registration is mandatory to ride in the state.

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