Snowmobilers dig into pockets to save parks

Snowmobilers in the Yakima area are reaching into their own wallets to help a state agency make up for a budget shortfall – not because they want to.

The alternative would effectively shut down snowmobiling in several popular trail riding areas.

Department of Natural Resources officials say they would have to close five Sno-Parks on DNR-managed land in Central Washington: two in the Ahtanum and one each at Manastash (southwest of Ellensburg), Rattlesnake (off Highway 410 in the Nile) and Lily Lake, near Mission Ridge.

Mark Mauren, the DNR’s assistant recreation manager, told about 90 snowmobile enthusiasts at a recent meeting that budget cutbacks had left the agency without the $25,000 it would take to provide oversight at the Sno-Parks.

Without oversight, the DNR could not allow the trail grooming – funded by the Washington State Parks’ Winter Recreation Program –to continue at those DNR Sno-Parks.

The snowmobilers got angry, ranted some, and then proceeded to start raising the $25,000.

But they’re not happy about it.

“We’re afraid this is opening a bad can of worms, a bad precedent,” said Paul Younie, this area’s district representative to the Washington State Snowmobile Association. “But we feel the position of doing nothing is worse.”

“We’re going to fight it, but it’s in the works. It’s done,” said Carl Denton, president of the Yakima Ski-Benders snowmobile club. “We’re just a few weeks away from having snow, and if we don’t have the Sno-Parks, we’ll be parking on the road and fighting our way in to the trails and they won’t let the groomers in there.”

Mauren said DNR’s recreation budget was slashed during the 2009 legislative session from $1.2 million per biennium to $440,000.

“The agency is not in the business of closing down opportunities,” Mauren said. “Unfortunately, we’re going to have to live within our budget.”

Winter-spring vandalism to toilets and picnic tables in the area has cost the agency thousands of dollars, officials said.

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