COEUR d'ALENE — A Kootenai County board is exploring how to blaze a new trail so all backcountry users during the winter pay their fair share for grooming services.
Currently, only snowmobilers are required to pay the fees that include the state's Snowmobile Certificate of Number ($32.50) and the county's groomer sticker ($15).
However, the groomed trails are also used for other recreation such as fat-tire bicycling, skiing and dog sledding. Those users don’t have to pay to use the groomed trails.
"The Kootenai County Snowmobile Advisory Board is discussing how all users of winter-groomed trails pay their fair share for trail use," said Joe Wuest, a board member.
Percentage of use would be among the factors taken into account with the fee structure.
"If you look at skiers and fat-tire bicyclists, they don't use the trails to the extent that snowmobilers do," Wuest said.
Wuest said there has been early buy-in to the idea from user groups.
"Some users such as the fat-tire bicyclists realize our concerns and volunteer to pay by buying the $15 sticker to help fund trail maintenance," he said.
The advisory board has started meeting with other user groups on how best to implement a fee.
"We need to have community buy-in to impose fees," he said.
No firm proposal has surfaced, but when it does, a public hearing will be held before the county commissioners.
Wuest said the advisory board believes fees will become even more important as future use trends evolve.
"We will continue working with the Forest Service, the Coeur d'Alene River Ranger District Trails Working Group and the community to provide ways for all user groups to enjoy their wintertime experience in the national forest," he said. "We are also in discussions with the Forest Service about adding groomed trails in the future. "
There are more than 300 miles of groomed trails in Kootenai County during the winter.
With the $15 groomer sticker, 15 percent of the funds go toward the county for selling it, 40 percent to the sheriff's office for enforcement and 45 percent for grooming services.
Funds from the $32.50 certificate are divvied up between search and rescue, avalanche centers, Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, the county and the vendors.
Wuest said groomers cost around $300,000. Kootenai County has three. Plowing roads and recreation area parking lots such as near Fernan Saddle and Fourth of July Pass is also done.
Wuest said combining the current fees snowmobilers pay into one and increasing it $1.50 to $49 is also being discussed by the Idaho State Snowmobile Association he serves on. That step would require legislative approval. The last fee increase was 2007.
"If the county gets the same amount of funds and can still maintain the programs, why have two fees?" said Wuest, referring to the logic behind combining the fees into one.
The county's snowmobile advisory board's next meeting is April 1 at 7 a.m. at Elmer's Restaurant in Coeur d'Alene.