Lynne Boyd if the Chief of the Forest Management Division of the Department of Natural Resources and Environment.
Recently, your website published an article by Denny Paull regarding cross-country ski trail grooming at Black Mountain Recreational Area entitled “Where is the outrage?” that contained several false claims that I would like to address.
The Department of Natural Resources (DNRE), like many other state agencies, has to make tough decisions when implementing programs impacted by declining state revenues. The state forest ski grooming program is one example. Recently the average annual grooming program expenditures were $265,668. Program funds come from three sources: 1) the state’s General Fund (general tax dollars), which has seen severe reductions over the last several years; 2) the Recreational Improvement Fund grants actively sought by the DNRE to support the program; and 3) a very small portion is from donations placed in fee pipes at various trails (generally less than $9,500 per year statewide).
This year, continuing general fund reductions lead to the decision that the state could no longer continue to groom these trails with our employees. This situation called for action by the DNRE to work with not only our bargaining units, but with local communities to come up with solutions.
In 2006 a volunteer agreement was first signed by Mr. Paull on behalf of the Thunder Bay Trail Association (TBTA) to groom seven miles of the system’s Nordic track with their grooming equipment and labor. This volunteer agreement still is in place. The DNRE did not “abandon” the remaining 23 miles of trails at Black Mountain, as Mr. Paull asserts. We simply do not have the revenues to continue grooming.
As in previous years, the DNRE provided the preseason maintenance of all 30 miles of the Black Mountain Trails by clearing vegetation, trees and branches, which would obstruct the winter use of both groomed and ungroomed portions of the trail. The DNRE is providing snow plowing services for the four parking lots to assure that skiers and snowshoers can safely access the entire system by parking in lots, rather than on road right-of-ways.
The DNRE continues to work with TBTA to assure the success of the March 6 Nordic ski race. As part of the use permit for the event, required by law, the TBTA has the opportunity to groom the entire route of the event as needed, starting a week before the event and ending immediately following the event.
For Mr. Paull to assert that the DNRE rejected his group’s offer to help is false. The DNRE told Mr. Paull that it needed to negotiate with a bargaining unit to provide expanded trail grooming opportunities at Black Mountain. Those negotiations were successfully completed last week, and I want to thank the Michigan State Employees Association for recognizing the economic impact these trails have on nearby communities.
It is important to note that around the state, groomed ski trails are still being provided for, as all existing grant funded contracts and volunteer agreements were continued; 92.5 miles are still being groomed as a result.
Several communities have generously contributed local donations to the DNRE so that an additional 54.4 miles of ski trails would continue to be groomed by bargaining unit members. These are important partnerships with local communities, and we thank them for their generous support. Had Mr. Paull’s offer been forthright we would have made the arrangements for additional grooming by staff on this trail.
It is unfortunate that Mr. Paull attempted to back his claims with false assertions about the DNRE and its employees. There is no “double standard,” as Mr. Paull claims for the trails that get groomed. Some ski trails have long-existing agreements with local organizations that assist with grooming, and others do not. Three trails are groomed under competitive contracts which are funded by a Recreation Improvement Fund Grant.
The recent labor negotiations will help the DNRE and our employees work with local groups to get more miles groomed this season. And that’s a good thing for all skiers.