Snowmobilers fight to keep budget for winter trails

After local politicians debated scrapping plans to maintain the back-country trails, snowmobilers in Prescott-Russell are arguing their sport is a major boost to the local economy.

Riders say 380 km of trails are a tourist draw during winter lulls

During the cold season, snowmobiling accounts for 119 jobs and an economic impact of about $12 million to Prescott-Russell, according to Pascale Roy. (Supplied by CUPR)

As winter draws closer, many snowmobile enthusiasts are starting to feel the itch to get back on their rides.

It's no different in Prescott-Russell, two consolidated counties east of Ottawa. After local politicians debated scrapping plans to maintain the back-country trails, snowmobilers are arguing their sport is a major boost to the local economy.

Last year, county representatives began to question the cost of maintaining the 70-kilometre-long trail, which runs east to west through the area. The 2018 budget allocates $170,000 for the trail's upkeep, but they argued it wouldn't bring in as much revenue as was being invested. 

Local snowmobilers disagree. 

Martin Villeneuve works at a recreational vehicle dealership in Hawksbury. According to the Eastern Ontario Snowmobile Club, two dealerships in the area sold 400 new snowmobiles last year. (Denis Babin/Radio-Canada)

Trails bring jobs and tourists

"Just for Prescott-Russell there's an economic impact of over $12-million dollars during those short two to three months,"  said Pascale Roy, a spokesperson for an eastern Ontario snowmobiling club.

"And in eastern Ontario from Kingston, Arnprior, right up to Lancaster and Hawkesbury, we're talking about $900-million in economic impact."

Maintaining the 70-kilometre stretch is only half the battle, as there are almost 400 kilometres of other routes maintained by volunteers. 

The trails are more than a tourist draw. With sales of the machines increasing, more jobs are created. 

This 70-kilometre trail, groomed using municipal money, is used by snowmobilers in the winter time. Another 380 kilometres of pathways are maintained by volunteers (Denis Babin/Radio-Canada)

In Prescott-Russell last year, there were over 400 new snowmobiles sold at the two dealerships in the area, said Roy. That means 119 people remain employed over the winter and businesses benefit from snowmobilers who pay for service, accommodation and supplies, he said.

But Roy admits, because of the volunteer nature of the sport, a better job needs to be done in marketing and promoting the economic benefits of snowmobiling to the general public and to politicians.

With files from Denis Babin and Mario Carlucci