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Economic opportunity in off-road trails


In my opinion, a small investment for a substantial return to the economy would be to develop the off-road vehicle industry, primarily UTVs and ATVs (I will use ATV to refer to side-by-side vehicles as well).

In addition to the considerable investment users must make in order to participate in this recreational activity, every single metre of trail travelled is a return to the economy and hence the provincial treasury. Anyone who lives in central and western Newfoundland knows the enormous economic boost to the economy once snow is on the ground.

In 2005, the latest figures I can find, the snowmobile industry contributed $192 million to the provincial economy.  There were fewer than 30,000 machines in the province for an average of $6,400 per machine. It is not hard to imagine how those numbers have exploded during the boom of the past 10 years.   

However, all spending on snowmobile actives stop once spring comes. Money spent wisely would allow that boom to continue if the present ATV trails in the province, and new ones, could be developed into a trail network that includes more than the NL T’Railway.

Let’s consider a few statistics from studies of the ATV industry in one other jurisdiction.

As of 2010, Ontario had “over 60,000 kilometres of developed multi-use trails that are used for a variety of outdoor-based activities including: hiking, cycling, snowmobiling, dog sledding, mountain biking, ATVing, equestrian sports and cross country skiing.”

On average the “Ontario Trails Council estimates that trails contribute at least $2 billion a year to the provincial economy, employing more than 10,000 people.

The most profitable trails are those that are longest and in rural areas. One trail system, Elliot Lake, is now host to a 1,200-kilometer multi-use trail system.”

Mandatory trail pass was set at $120 per machine. The same study found that for hikers the average spending was $35 per person while on a day trip and $76 while staying overnight at hiking locations. The former figure would not cover the gasoline expenditure of a single ATV day trip, supporting my claim that hiking is cheap trail traffic.

Figures for 2015 indicate that return to the Ontario provincial treasury in taxes will amount to $337,602,696.

The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador has done very little to develop any kind of ATV industry in the province. Some money has been invested by ACOA and IBRD to assist local trail associations build and maintain short sections of trail, particularly on the Burin Peninsula. However, there is no plan in place to realize the enormous potential represented by all the ATV owners in this province.

Government can only guess how many ATVs there are in the province because once the machine is registered and the plate issued at point of sale, no further record is kept. It appears that, after sale, the province is content to collect the taxes on the 59 gallons of gasoline the average ATV burns every year, and on accessories, repairs and maintenance.

As of this writing in 2015, the NL T’Railway is the province’s best option to attract ATVers. That 800-kilometre linear park that runs from Paradise to Pasadena, then from Curling to Port au Basques, attracts many thousands of local ATVers every year, and hundreds more from out of the province. Again, no data can be found to support anything better than a guess as to actual numbers.

There are short stretches of ATV trail on the Burin Peninsula, the longest being 60 kilometres return. The Burin Peninsula Trailway Board has been working since 2009 to upgrade existing trails and to build new trail to create a network that would include more than 500 kilometres of pristine wilderness. To date, it is a work in progress.

So why is the snowmobile industry such a boom to the province, while the countless thousands of ATVs are not? The answer is as follows:

“Both levels of Government have invested approximately $20 million in the development of snowmobile trails in the province. Prior to mandatory legislation, only 15 per cent of snowmobile users in the province purchased a voluntary Trail Use Stickers. This new legislation will allow snowmobile associations to collect fees which will be used in the ongoing maintenance of trails and to support future infrastructure requirements.”

This is a quote from the NL Snowmobile Federation FAQ at http://nlsf.org/faqs.

No such legislation or funding has been made available to ATV associations and any fees paid by members or ATV trail association are strictly voluntary. Most ATV trails have been developed primarily by fundraised dollars collected by volunteers, supplemented by ad hoc funding from ACOA and IBRD. Much of that funding comes from the Community Enhancement Program and Job Creation Program, neither of which will allow the funding to be used for trail excavation. There is no plan to promote the ATV industry to make it anything close to the snowmobile boom experienced every year when the snow comes.

Given the high return to the economy and hence the provincial treasury during snowmobile season, I cannot imagine why the Department of Tourism is not beating a path to the doors of qualifying ATV trail associations with the intent to duplicate that success.

It is a good guess that there are as many or more ATVs in the province as snowmobiles and the season is much longer. One would think that the potential for return on investment would be similar or even better.

Would the same plan for ATV trail development work as it did for snowmobiles? That is, of course, unknown. Would the same model as used in another jurisdiction work in Newfoundland and Labrador? Who can say? What is known is this: if it were mandatory that every ATV owner in the province was legislated to pay an annual trail fee, money would be available for trail associations to develop trail networks. After all, everyone who owns and ATV drives trails someplace.  

Perhaps some other scenario might be more palatable to government and the ATV industry. I contend that an annual registration fee for every ATV collected by government, the same as for automobiles, and used to fund the building of a provincial trail network would be a far more efficient and effective way to go.   Who can say at this point how it should be done, but logic says, that in the face of declining oil revenue, something should be done to take advantage of this enormous potential.

This article is a much-abbreviated edition of a case I have sent to the provincial minister of Tourism. The entire document, along with supporting Internet references, is posted at www.townofgarnish.com.

Elroy Grandy, secretary

Burin Peninsula Trailway Board Inc.

egrandy@yahoo.com

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