DNR Improves Grant-in-Aid Program

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The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR) is making changes to the Grant-in-Aid Program by increasing accountability, oversight and simplifying the application process. This will make it more efficient for local trails clubs to receive assistance for trail maintenance and development. Grants are awarded annually by the DNR.

The DNR has been working with counties and snowmobile clubs on changes to the snowmobile Grant-in-Aid Program. The improvements will make grant-in-aid project funding more consistent and less subjective, according to Tim Mitchell, who administers the Grant-in-Aid Program.

"Those changes will be in place for the next round of grant applications in the spring," said Mitchell. "We will also be making changes to the cross-country ski and OHV programs after meetings with those groups."

The DNR will also conduct periodic reviews of the program to ensure the grants are properly addressing the resource needs of trails clubs. Two positions were recently created by the DNR to supervise the Grant-in-Aid Program. Mitchell will serve as the trail program coordinator and Andrew Korsberg will conduct the program reviews.

"These changes will improve the quality and effectiveness of the program," said DNR Commissioner Gene Merriam. "The clubs have done a wonderful job keeping the grant-in-aid trails in good condition and safe for all users. This will help us and them continue their good work."

Funding provided by the Grant-in-Aid Program comes from vehicle registrations, trail passes and other fees related to cross-country skiing, snowmobiling and off-highway vehicles (OHVs), such as all-terrain vehicles (ATVs), off-highway motorcycles (OHMs) and other off-road vehicles (ORVs). The Minnesota Legislature established dedicated accounts for snowmobiling, cross-country skiing and OHVs. Since 1995, the DNR has provided more than $44 million from those dedicated accounts for upkeep and grooming of grant-in-aid trails and the development of new trails and related facilities.

Members of local clubs perform nearly all maintenance activities on grant-in-aid trails. For example, of the more than 20,000 miles of snowmobile trails in Minnesota, local clubs maintain approximately 18,000 of those miles. The work to keep trails open and safe is done by club members who volunteer their time. In addition to the more than 18,000 miles of snowmobile trails, the Grant-in-Aid Program helps clubs take care of 750 miles of cross-country ski trails and 1,000 miles of OHV trails. However, Mitchell pointed out that clubs are not the only ones helping to maintain and expand the current grant-in-aid trails system.

"The majority of the state's grant-in-aid trails run across private property," Mitchell explained. "Without the generosity of landowners, the trails system people enjoy would be no where near what it is at today."

The Minnesota Legislature established the snowmobile and cross-country ski Grant-in-Aid Programs in 1973, followed by programs for ATVs in 1984 and OHMs and ORVs in 1993. In general, grant-in-aid funding covers nearly two-thirds of costs related to trail and facility development and acquisition, and up to 90 percent of costs for trail grooming and maintenance.