JHNordic received a question regarding multi-use on the popular trail, Cache Creek:
“Question on Cache Creek- it seems that the few snowmobiles that head up Cache Creek trail do significant damage to the trail that’s groomed for skiing- In the past I have responded to the Forest Service surveys, asking them to ban snowmobiles there, as it is a short, dead end road, with huge conflicts with skiers, walkers, wildlife. Today, one of the trail ambassadors there, wearing a forest service coat, informed me that snowmobiles are allowed there because they fund the grooming there- is this true? If so, I wonder if we can request they forgo that funding, and find a way for FOP and Pathways to groom without their help.
The terrain there is fantastic, and it’s such a short trail for snowmobiling, I can’t imagine it has a huge following, like Granite Creek, or the Gros Ventre, much less Togwotee. E.W.
What is your understanding of the situation there?”
Reply by L. Merigliano –Bridger-Teton USFS Manager:
Indeed this is a frequent question and one that I did explore quite a bit last winter.
First, the requirement to obtain a snowmobile permit is a State regulation. The Forest Service receives no direct funding. Permit funds go back to the State and are used for the production of maps, grooming (e.g. Togwotee area, Granite Creek, Gros Ventre), plowing, and winter patrollers (e.g. for the Togwotee area and Greys River road).
Teton County Parks and Recreation Department is authorized by the Forest Service to groom the Cache Creek and Game Creek trails. Funding for this effort comes from a combination of “Recreation Trail Program” funds supplemental with some County funds. The RTP program funds come from the gas tax administered by the Federal Highway Administration (https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/recreational_trails/ ). The funds are distributed to the States and are available via a competitive grant program. Teton County applies for these funds each year and has always received some funding. The grant requires a match which the Forest Service provides (we fund plowing of the Cache Creek road and trailhead, plus funding for 2 winter patrollers which facilitates the ambassador program, restroom maintenance, plus design and production of area signing). All of the Forest funding comes through the Federal Land Recreation Enhancement Act, which authorizes us to retain outfitter-guide fees and reinvest these funds back into visitor services and facility maintenance. I could provide much more info about trends in the FS budget but suffice it to say that wildfire suppression costs are now consuming most of the budget leaving little funding available for any other programs.
Andy Erskine, Teton County/Jackson Parks & Recreation, oversees the grooming program and I did ask him how dependent the County was on RTP funding. He said that the RTP funding covers more than 80% of program costs and they would not be able to continue the program without these funds. The State maintains that they will ONLY provide the grooming funds if these trails remain open to both snowmobile and non-motorized uses. Last year, the County almost lost the funding because the State was hearing comments that their role was not acknowledged and snowmobile access might be eliminated. You may have seen the new sign at beginning of the Cache Creek trail (where grooming info is posted) that talks about Wyoming State Trails – this is direct result of the conversations last year.
The Forest Service has and will continue to do all it can to make the Cache Creek trail work for everyone. We recognize that the conditions may not be ideal for skate skiing but the upside is that there are no fees and it provides access for a wide variety of uses. We did restrict snowmobile use to the first mile of the groomed trail in a 2015 decision to prevent the incidents that occurred in the past with snowmobile use in the trailhead and lower Putt-Putt area.
We continue to focus on education efforts to promote responsible shared use. As for the future, there is always the possibility of re-visiting winter recreation on the National Forest and this will certainly occur as part of Forest Plan revision and subsequent winter travel planning. But, in the spirit of ensuring sustainable recreation, funding will need to be a key part of the equation. There are lots of models out there to look at including the nearby Teton Valley Trails & Pathways (TVTAP) and Sun Valley that generate funds either through active donation program or required trail fees.