In a move that stunned the Mammoth Lakes nordic community, trail setting and grooming organization Mammoth Nordic, a fixture on the nordic scene since 2002, has effectively shut down all of its operations. Mammoth Nordic’s Brian Knox made the announcement to the group’s general membership last week.
The announcement that grooming wouldn’t continue this winter put the Town’s Recreation Department into damage control mode, as it endeavored to find a stopgap solution.
The organization was at the center of controversy last fall when Mammoth’s Recreation Commission announced (and Town Council subsequently approved) its Measure R funding distribution recommendations. Mammoth Nordic was granted just $5,000 during the fall funding cycle.
That, Knox indicated, was the last straw, and likely solidified Knox’s decision to shut down Mammoth Nordic’s operations, for now, and possibly for good.
Mammoth Nordic had submitted an application for $355,000 in Measure R funds during the fall cycle.
Mammoth Nordic’s request included more than $120,000 for a new grooming machine, as well as paid staff and other overhead expenses. The Commission concluded the item needed to be studied more as to ownership and maintenance issues, as well as whether a “new” groomer was a good idea, versus a “pre-owned” one.
The Recreation Commission also expressed its wishes that the Town’s Recreation Department form a committee to see if Mammoth Nordic could be paired up with John Wentworth’s Mammoth Lakes Trails and Public Access Foundation (MLTPA), which was granted $200,520 (and another $46,000 in the upcoming Spring cycle) out of the $620,000 available in the fall cycle.
Up until the decision was made to shelve the project, Mammoth Nordic had worked with the U.S. Forest Service and volunteers in grooming roughly nine miles of cross-country ski trails for the public. Many town leaders and civic supporters consider Mammoth Nordic’s grooming program an important town amenity. Earlier last year, the group had outlined plans to expand its grooming and track setting operation, almost doubling its number of miles of trails. “We did our level best to bring this forward, and we feel this is something the town deserves,” Knox told The Sheet. “We want it to succeed, but we can’t do it at the level of service it needs all by ourselves.”
Knox said the decision was effective immediately, but added that should the climate change between the organization and the Town, he’d be more than willing to work with them and pull Mammoth Nordic out of mothballs. But even if things turned around tomorrow, Mammoth Nordic is done for the season.
Part of the letter to members on the Mammoth Nordic website takes a dim view of the new and still-evolving RECSTRATS document, the Town’s “visioning and implementation” plan for recreation, which according to Knox, puts “Community Nordic Trails four years out from further consideration for development.” Recreation Chairman Bill Sauser disputes Knox’s assessment, pointing out that RECSTRATS is just getting underway, has established no definitive position whatsoever on nordic or any other specific topics, and has yet to hold its first of at least 7 planned public meetings.”
“As a Council-approved Vision for Recreation and Strategic Plan for Implementation, the Plan clearly does identify a wide variety of potential recreation amenities and opportunities, along with proposed time lines for their pursuit,” Knox countered via e-mail.?“These timelines will be the starting point for each of the seven recommended Core Strategies yet to be implemented. Continued development of the Nordic System is on a 4-6 year time line, with a number of other activities [backcountry, snowplay areas, snowmobiling and biathlon development] at a higher priority.” An administrator note on the Mammoth Nordic’s site summary of the time lines goes on to posit that, “A community Nordic Trail System is not due to be pursued until 2014, at the earliest.”[Note: Regarding Mr. Knox’s use of the word “priority,” in the RECSTRATS Final Draft (page 21), there are no numerical “rankings” as such, though Nordic appears as the fifth bullet point on the list of five major winter categories, which are listed in descending order according to “proposed” timelines.]
Sauser also indicated that part of the problem the Commission faced with Mammoth Nordic’s application stemmed not only from the large request submitted during the past fall and spring funding cycles, but also what the Commission seems to have collectively concluded would amount to year-to-year funding of at least $80,000 (after factoring out the initial cost of the groomer and ancillary parts) for salaries, office space, marketing, et al. (Some Commissioners estimated the amount to be “significantly higher,” Sauser recalled.)
Higher or not, in Mammoth Nordic’s Project Concept Plan, which Knox wrote “outlines our budgeted costs to provide the hight Level of Service we have established,” he goes on to state: “The total cost, $85,394, is also reflected in our reply to Application Section 2, question 3c: Maintenance/Operation (anticipated annual costs).”
That figure, Sauser said, doesn’t address any back end amortization, and isn’t clearly delineated in the proposal’s budget.
“If it isn’t year-to-year, [Knox] needed to let us know that, and if it’s not [year-to-year] how he’s planning to continue the program without coming back to Measure R,” Sauser said.
According to Town Recreation Manager Stu Brown, his department was notified on Nov. 9 that Mammoth Nordic would not be continuing. In an e-mail to The Sheet, Brown said, “We are [the Town, U.S. Forest Service and Mammoth Lakes Tourism] are now trying to create a temporary program for this season to offer grooming and track setting at Shady Rest.?It will come down to Mammoth Nordic and their willingness to lease the equipment to the town.”
Sheet sources say the Recreation Department is reportedly attempting to hammer out an option agreement with Mammoth Nordic to see if the group would be amenable to having the Town use the groomer to finish out the season, even at somewhat abbreviated levels of service. Brown said the Town should hopefully know by the end of the month “if we can make it work.”