The Blaine County commissioners continued to increase support for the county’s state-mandated snowmobile grooming program Tuesday, moving closer to bringing the operation in house under county staff.

For years, the Sawtooth Snowmobile Club has handled the service on contract with the county. But now the club wants out—and, with more users taking advantage of the trails for a wider range of uses, the commissioners think it’s an opportune time to take a more active role.

That will mean hiring a seasonal grooming coordinator, and bringing two or three on-call employees into the Road & Bridge Department to run the snowcat when conditions merit. First, though, the county plans to form an advisory board that will determine exactly what those conditions are, and—ideally—keep the club engaged in the operation. County staff plans to meet with club members on Monday, Oct. 21, to hash out those details.

“The guidelines are all over the place, when it comes to standards,” county Road and Bridge Manager Steve Thompson said. “Hopefully, when we meet, we can come up with a standard for what we do, and when the groomers go out.”

When the revamped program gets running, the county plans to use its outreach arm—website, social media, etc.—to broadcast conditions to trail users. Until now, information pops up on the club’s Facebook page.

Lately, though, more snowmo-

bilers aren’t members of the club. Baker Creek in particular is popular with backcountry skiers using sleds to access slopes and yurts. Many miss the reports, Commissioner Angenie McCleary said.

Under the direction of Sawtooth Snowmobile Club Grooming Coordinator Chad Sluder, a volunteer, it takes one or two days a week for a couple of trained—and paid—members to set the trails. Preseason, other volunteers clear and repair the trails. Not only does it make riding better, according to club member Aaron Dechevrieux, it also protects the state-owned snowcat.

Idaho code requires all counties to maintain a grooming operation, funded in part by a portion of fees paid to register snowmobiles. The state provides a snowcat, valued at $325,000, according to Mike Robinson of the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, for the county to store and run.

Blaine County typically gets about $15,000 from the state earmarked for running the thing, and the club has tried to stretch that as far as possible—though it rarely goes far enough. Last season, maintenance costs on the state-owned cat drove expenditures up to $28,000, according to club Treasurer Stephanie Eisenbarth, though it can “range massively,” she told the commissioners in May. Typically, Blaine County supplements the state money with $5,000 to $10,000. When the money runs out, grooming stops, Eisenbarth said.

With resources stretched thin, the county needs the club to buy in and volunteer, even once its staff takes over.

Email the writer: mdee@mtexpress.com

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