Ask Zimo: Different passes provide funding for state parks trails

pzimowsky@idahostatesman.comFebruary 6, 2014 

Q: Is the state parks pass you get when you renew your vehicle license good at Idaho Park N’ Ski areas?

Even after checking the state parks’ website about what the passport covers, I wasn’t sure because it says, “and miles of ski trails.”

— JANE CROSBY, via email

A: The $10 Idaho State Parks Passport will get you into state parks where Nordic ski trails are groomed, but it isn’t the right pass for Idaho Park N’ Ski areas.

Although Park N’ Ski areas are operated by the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, which also oversees state parks, different passes or permits are involved.

You’ll need a $25 annual Park N’ Ski permit to visit areas like the state-groomed Nordic trails northwest of Idaho City. A three-day permit is $7.50.

Actually, the state has 17 Park N’ Ski areas across Idaho with more than 180 miles of groomed and un-groomed trails.

The Park N’ Ski permit specifically provides dedicated funds for plowing parking lots and grooming trails at those areas.

Let’s look at the Idaho City Park N’ Ski area in particular. Sales of the permits provide between $8,000 to $15,000 per year for grooming. The amount of permits sold and funding depend on how much snow the areas get to lure skiers and snowshoers up there.

Each year, the state pays $6,500 to the Idaho Transportation Department to plow four of the Idaho City Park N’ Ski lots.

Leo Hennessy, non-motorized trails program manager for the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, estimates that it actually takes between $30,000 and $40,000 per year for trail grooming in the areas between Idaho City and Lowman.

The program is not self-sustaining and is being subsidized by the rental fees from the popular Idaho City Yurts, he said. However, skiers and snowshoers who rent the yurts have to use the trails to get to them.

The major costs for grooming at the Idaho City area include the expense of the snow groomer breakdowns, diesel fuel for the groomer, the groomer operator and the cost of truck fuel and maintenance for personnel driving up to the trails for grooming.

Hennessy said in a year or so, the state will have to replace the groomer truck and snow cat because of old age and the need for major repairs. Used snow groomers range from $50,000 to $100,000, he said.

With the expense of operating Nordic trails and extensive cuts in the state parks budget over the years, specific programs have to be funded by specific permits or passes.

For example, state parks that have what the state calls premium Nordic trails, such as the ones at Ponderosa State Park, charge a $4 daily trails fee in addition to the State Parks Passport or $5 vehicle entry fee.

Groomed Nordic trails are expensive, but skiers love them.

Pete Zimowsky: 377-6445, Twitter: @Zimosoutdoors

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