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Snowmobiling threatened at popular destination

Snowmobiling threatened at popular destination

ISLAND PARK, Idaho - If snowmobiling ended at Mount Jefferson, it could prove disastrous for Island Park.  It is a debate that has been tackled by the forest service, in courts and even in Washington, D.C. on the Senate floor.

"Mt. Jefferson for me as a rider, is one of my favorite places to ride. There's all the terrain a guy wants in there, great snow, great conditions, that is definitely where the steep and deep is," said Ryan Funke, vice president of Targhee Ridge Runners Snowmobile Club.

If riders stray outside of designated snowmobiling area, sleds could be permanently banned from the mountain.

"[There] is a line we cannot let snowmobilers go across. If they go into this area there going to be hash tags across all of this and we will not be able to ride that," said Kevin Phillips, owner of Mountain Mayhem in Island Park and chair person for Island Park Grooming.

Montana Senator Jon Tester proposed a bill in 2009 that designated all of Mount Jefferson as "wilderness study area," which would end access to motorized vehicles.

It is public federal land and Idaho Senator Jim Risch weighed in.

"In previous years I negotiated with Senator Tester on language that would very, very clearly allow the south end of Mount Jefferson to stay open."

So why does a Montana mountain mean so much to Idaho?

"The economic impact to Montana is fairly minimal, but the impact to Ashton, Island Park, our area is extreme because this is our riding area, our diamond as you would call it," said Funke.

Sen. Tester re-introduced the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act in 2013. It is intended to improve Montana's economy, and it has been revised to leave the big mountain open to snowmobilers.

Some Idahoans are still concerned.

"Now they are working on the language of the bill so that it states directly what is going to happen with the bill if it goes through to make sure that area stays opens," said Phillips.

"This bill is not going anywhere until we get the language that is acceptable to Idaho and to the Idaho people who want to recreate on Mount Jefferson," said Risch.

Kevin Phillip's shop, Mountain Mayhem, relies on the tourism Mount Jefferson brings through Island Park.

"To my business here, it would really put a damper on it, because we rent big mountain sleds that people come in to rent to go to the mountain," said Phillips.

Phillips wants riders to know they can still enjoy the mountain, but to take the boundaries seriously.

There will be signs on the mountain and at the major parking lots-- there will even an ad on the radio.

That ad ends by saying, "Going out of bounds is like a signing a petition to end snowmobiling on Mount Jefferson."

At press time, Montana Senator Tester had not responded to requests for comment.
Risch told Local News 8 that in conversations as recently as a couple of days ago the two were in agreement about keeping Mount Jefferson open.

For the bill to move forward it would need to get through the Senate committee. 

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