By Bob Walker, Chair, Montana Trails Coalition
Senator Terry Gauthier is carrying a bill in the 2019 legislature to increase the voluntary light motor vehicle registration fee. This change would create a new grant program for trail development, maintenance, and rehabilitation and help state parks and fishing access sites meet their maintenance and operation needs.
The proposal would increase the voluntary light motor vehicle registration fee to state parks from $6 to $10. The predicted result of this bill would yield $944,000 per year for a new Made-In-Montana grant program administered by Fish, Wildlife & Parks for trails and associated recreation facilities similar to the Recreational Trails grant program. In addition, SB 24 would increase funding to state parks by $895,000 per year and to fishing access sites by $170,000 per year.
The largest source of current trails funding in Montana comes from the Recreational Trails Program, a federal program. This program has guarantees for motorized and non-motorized trails. These funds are not secure and subject to elimination. Other trails funding sources come from OHV and snowmobile registrations and a small amount of the state gas tax refunded to both the OHV and snowmobile programs. The state invests virtually no state money for non-motorized trails.
The current $6 fee is the largest source of funding for Montana’s 55 state parks and helps state parks with maintenance and operations. State parks deferred maintenance backlog now exceeds $22 million. Small amounts also help support fishing access sites and Virginia and Nevada City heritage sites.
The new Made In Montana state trails grant program would be available to communities, counties, reservations, school districts, clubs and associations, state and federal agencies. The recommendation is that it would be administered using the same application process, forms and guidelines for the Recreational Trails Program (RTP). The State Trails Advisory Committee that currently advises on RTP awards would serve that purpose with the new program. The same categories as RTP would apply. Grants could include new trail construction, rehabilitation and/or maintenance of existing trails, trail side and trail head facilities including bridges, fencing, parking, bathrooms/latrines, picnic shelters, interpretation, trail signs, and trail side invasive weed control and winter trail grooming.
We will keep you posted on the status of this proposal.