By Bob Walker, Editor

A request has been submitted to the Legislative Service Bureau to draft a bill 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 meet their maintenance and operation needs.

The proposal would increase the voluntary light motor vehicle registration fee to state parks from $6 to $10. Of that increase, $1.75 would create a new grant program administered by Fish, Wildlife & Parks for trails and associated recreation facilities similar to the Recreational Trails grant program. In addition, $1.75 of the increase would be for the maintenance and operation of state parks, 25 cents for fishing access sites and 25 cents for Virginia and Nevada Cities.

The largest source of current trails funding in Montana comes from the Recreational Trails Program, a federal program. This program has guarantees for motorize 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 ($0.25) and Virginia and Nevada City heritage sites ($0.38).

The $1.75 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 and we will need your support when it is introduced by talking with you legislators and showing up at committee meetings at the capitol. We hope that the future of all trails in Montana will vastly improve with action by the 2019 legislative session!