Yakima snowmobilers to pay their way

YAKIMA -- Snowmobilers from around the state can expect some changes when they converge on the Ahtanum’s two Sno-Parks this winter.

First: Those places won’t be Sno-Parks any more. Ahtanum Meadows and the Ahtanum Guard Station — along with the erstwhile Sno-Parks at Manastash, Rattlesnake and Lily Lake — will now be Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Winter Recreation Sites.

Second, and more important: Snowmobilers won’t have to do their own fundraising campaigns, like the ones spearheaded by the Yakima Ski Benders in each of the last two winters, to keep them open and maintained.

Because from here on out, all snowmobilers — not just the few — will be paying the freight, in the form of the $30 cost of the Discover Pass that will be required behind the windshield of every rig in the parking lot.

“The thought is that if we require a Discover Pass, that will bring in enough revenue to fund the management costs of that area,” said Mark Mauren, the DNR’s Southeast Region recreation manager.

Can snowmobilers take that to the bank? The Ahtanum snowmobile circuits will be open, groomed and maintained without last-minute fundraising efforts.

“I’m taking that to the bank,” Mauren said. “This is a priority for us. Now we finally have the capability to be able to do it.”

Of course, it also means snowmobilers will have to purchase a Discover Pass to be able to use those DNR Sno-Parks-turned-winter-rec-sites. In the past, Sno-Park passes came with their registration, and for the past two years there just wasn’t enough money in the DNR recreation coffers to pay for the Sno-Parks’ on-site management.

So is this option — everybody paying a little more so a few don’t have to pay a lot more — the lesser of two evils?

“Very much so,” said Washington State Snowmobile Association (WSSA) president Ronna Younie of Selah. “State Parks doesn’t have enough money, and as the economy goes down there’s less and less snowmobilers, but they all want the same services.”

Ski Benders vice president Devin Dekker said his club supports the move if only because it spreads the cost around.

“The Discover Pass is a more equitable way among all snowmobilers to pay for it, because last year it was basically 30 percent paying for the other 70 percent of the users,” Dekker said. “Some people don’t want to hear about (the Discover Pass) and some people forget about it, but now everybody’s basically on equal footing.

Even with the Discover Pass taking care of maintenance and monitoring of the parking areas, though, grooming is still expected to take enough of a financial hit that some areas may be groomed less frequently than in the past.