The DNR’s money for some popular recreation programs is finally recovering from a big hit by budget-cutting lawmakers. David Downing runs the agency’s snowmobile and all-terrain vehicle programs. Registration money for snowmobiles and ATV’s is handled by the DNR and pays for law enforcement, trail maintenance, and buying property for ATV parks, so the programs are self-funded. But even though tax money isn’t involved, the department’s program money was swept into the general fund to balance the state’s budget during the 2002 legislative session. He says a year ago the legislature “swept the funds” from ATV and snowmobile accounts, he says, even though that money was earmarked just for those programs and though it affected the acquisition of federal matching dollars. Now the bi-annual budget is recovering, Downing says. They’ve gotten back lots of the federal money lost a year ago, and the first step was paying for liability insurance on ATV parks and snowmobile trails. State liability insurance also covers landowners who allow ATV and snowmobile riders to use their property. Downing says the state has 4,000 miles of snowmobile trails, owned and maintained by a combination of clubs, property owners and the state program. The trails can run along roadside ditches on routes agreed upon by snowmobile clubs and counties, and the clubs work out leases with landowners on trails across private land that’ll be covered by state insurance. The state currently operates four ATV parks for off-road riding, in Council Bluffs, Lake Rathbun, Waterloo and at Bluff Creek near Bussey, and a fifth is being developed.
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