RUTLAND - Heavy flooding this spring through southern and central Vermont has caused considerable damage to not only streets, roads and highways, but also the intricate network of snowmobile trails throughout the state.
Officials of the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers (VAST) recently stated that damage to their 4,500-mile trail system could cost more than $1.5 million to repair, including fallen trees and complete washouts, to upended culverts and damaged bridges.
Founded nearly 40 years ago, VAST is a no-profit, private group that includes 138 snowmobile clubs throughout the state, with over 35,000 current members. VAST is not only responsible for the organization of the sport, but also the maintaining and grooming of the trails. There are currently 14 elected directors in each of the state's 14 counties, with the main office in Berlin, Vermont housing seven full-time employees.
VAST Executive Director Bryant Watson recently stated that damage to the Lamoille County Rail Trail alone will reach $500,000, while snowmobile clubs from around the Green Mountain State are reporting other damages that could add another $1 million to the cost.
Several snowmobile clubs throughout the state are reporting that while simply assessing damage from roadside, many locations are being identified as having significant damage, including multiple dislodged bridges and culverts. It was also reported that a great deal of the trail damage is located in Washington, Orange, Lamoille, Orleans and Essex counties
With a current operating budget up to $5 million, VAST will have a difficult time generating the necessary funds to repair the entire trail network. Although some federal funds may be available for damaged trails, it is likely that VAST will have to first concentrate on repairing the main north-south and east-west corridors that will enable riders to access trails in all region of the state.
The goal will be to open up these main trails so that riders can get from a trail that is maintained by one club, to a connecting trail which is maintained by another club. Also, because many riders and tourists plan long trail rides over 100's of miles, creating this connectivity between trails is key.
Outdoor sports plays such a significant role in the state's economic impact, therefore, VAST will also likely apply for additional state and federal funding, along with the possibility of raising the trail fees within the organization to assist in the funding of repairs.
One positive aspect, however, is the fact that the organization has several months to determine what state funds they can seek and what other steps can be taken to raise the necessary funds to repair these main artery trails.
VAST is also currently looking for additional riders to assist in assessing further trail damage throughout the state. To learn more about VAST and the efforts to repair snowmobile trails throughout Vermont, visit its official website at www.vtvast.org and facebook page at www.facebook.com/vtvast.