For most of us, snowmobiling is a fun winter sport. But for some parts of Idaho, it's a way of life. Here's how deep an impact it's having in one community, and how it's being threatened.
2013 is off to a roaring start for Island Park business owners.
“I think every business up here is thriving right now,” said Tania Phillips of Mountain Mayhem.
“We've seen more people than we've seen in, more than I've seen in 23 years of working here,” said Joe Williams of the Elk Creek Repair Shop.
Both own businesses along the main stretch, where snowmobilers from near and far stop for rentals or to gas up before hitting the powder.
They said these winter months are crucial.
“It's a good 50 percent of our business through the year,” said Williams.
No doubt the terrain in Island Park is perfect for snowmobiling, and it's why Island Park is thriving. However, there are big changes coming next year and it all has to do with a little sticker.
In 2014, snowmobilers will have to register online or at the DMV, then wait for their registration in the mail.
“It flat-out will not work,” said Williams.
Residents say the policy is changing because one business was keeping the money from registrations.
From a Parks & Recreation Department standpoint, they faced an 80-percent cut in budget two years ago and an order from Governor Otter to make agencies more efficient.
“We've always been able to provide those registration stickers for locals and visitors,” said Phillips.
Law enforcement will also have to adjust.
“If they don't have stickers, they'll have to carry a receipt,” said Fremont County Sheriff Len Humphries. “It'll be a bit of a challenge” because finding that slip of paper isn't easy in snow gear.
The biggest problem will be for the weekenders - you can't simply pick up the pass when you get there.
“We've got to actually plan ahead,” said Tamra Cikaitoga, director of Fremont County Parks and Recreation.
She said it won't be easy to take a last-minute trip when you see that killer snowstorm, “which, you know, is hard when we want to get out on that snow.”
More restrictions could mean fewer registrations. That would lead to less grooming on the trails and less money for the county.
“It will affect us tremendously,” said Williams.
“Bottom line, we think it's going to hurt us for a couple years,” said Cikaitoga.
Since business this year is key, we want to mention that Winterfest is happening this weekend in Island Park.
There will be be everything from fireworks to a snowman-building contest and a champagne brunch.
For more info, see http://www.islandparkchamber.org/winterfest.html.
Harmful or not, the effects of the new registration rules won't be known for quite some time.
For now, said Phillips, “Come see us!”