Wasilla snowmachine group to set up safety program

Mike Campbell

The North American Outdoor Institute earned this year's top award from the state Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation's Snowmobile Trail Grants program, and the Wasilla group plans to use the money to spread safety awareness.

NAOI will use its $15,000 to host a snowmachine safety summit Nov. 20, followed by at least four training sessions in southcentral and northwest Alaska. Discounted snowmachine helmets will be offered to participants.

"I want something simple, practical and fun to learn that I'm likely to do and that my crazy brothers are going to do," said Debra McGhan, executive director of the Wasilla-based institute. "I'd like to see 5,000 people a year go through it minimum.

"In Alaska, sometimes we don't want to be told what to do. We hope to make this summit so appealing that it's a no-brainer."

NAOI is one of several organizations that received money for trail grooming, improvement and snowmobile safety from the grants program, which has been doling out money since 2001.

The grants, funded by state snowmachine registration fees, are available for developing and maintaining snowmobile trails as well as safety and education projects. Applications were reviewed by SnowTRAC, a statewide citizen advisory committee appointed by the Parks and Outdoor Recreation director.

Recipients and their projects include:

• Mid-Valley Trail Club ($11,672) -- Buy a four-stroke snowmachine to assist the club in maintaining some 60 miles of winter trails and trailheads along the Susitna River.

• Montana Creek Motor Mushers ($4,000) -- Safety improvements on a trail along the south fork of Montana Creek. The grant will fund rental of a small bulldozer to widen and improve the trail.

• Alaska State Parks ($8,000) -- Buy a snowmachine so someone from the Department of Natural Resources can ride the trails to check access problems, do maintenance checks, put up signs and meet snowmobilers.

• Lake Louise Snowmobile Club ($10,920) -- Parts to repair the club's Bombardier 400 Snow Cat used on area trails.

Another $276,581 was awarded for trail grooming. It was divvied up this way:

• Mat-Su -- $170,901

• Northern Alaska -- $45,480

• Kenai Peninsula -- $50,200

• Southeast -- $10,000.

The amount of money available for trail grooming statewide was up 25 percent from last year, with Mat-Su's portion up more than 35 percent. Funds increased because of fuel tax funds directed to the program as well as surplus money left over from last year when scant snowfall in the Susitna Valley curbed grooming efforts.

The money available for grants declined from last year because the number of snowmobile registrations dipped, said Andre Kaeppele with the state Department of Natural Resources.

Kaeppele said Alaska snowmachine registrations have been flat at around 50,000 for several years. New machines are registered as they leave the dealership, but there is little registration enforcement and renewals are scattershot at best.

Reach reporter Mike Campbell at mcampbell@adn.com or 257-4329.