Snowmobiles bring big bucks to northern Vermont town

Barton Chronicle
Posted 12.20.02

ISLAND POND, VT | Snowmobiles bring $511 million to Vermontıs economy every year, according to the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers (VAST).And since Island Pond is "the snowmobile capital of Vermont," itıs no surprise that the economic impact of snowmobiling in this town is huge.

"This is what brought this town back to life after the trains," said Peg Halpin of Kingdom Cat Corp., which sells and repairs Arctic Cat snowmobiles.

Ms. Halpin and her husband, Bob, started their business in 1998 and sold seventeen sleds that year. This year they have sold one hundred.

"The effect is much bigger than the human eye can see," said Anita Gervais, who came up with the saying that Island Pond is the snowmobile capital of Vermont. She came up with it for a VAST ad in 1988 when she was active in the Island Pond Chamber of Commerce.

"If the local businesses are doing well, they employ people," Ms. Gervais said. "A lot of people are renting places that they would have never rented."

According to Craig Goulet, who has been renting lakefront property for ten years, some people are even living in their garages temporarily in order to rent out their own homes. Some folks are informally renting out extra beds by the night in large houses, he said, and three inns have opened or are opening in Island Pond this year.

A considerable number of new homes have been built by snowmobilers. Mr. Goulet estimated that forty to fifty new homes have been built in the area in the last five years due to snowmobiling. Some of them are $200,000 homes.

Anne Moore of the Taylor-Moore Agency said properties are selling for quite a bit more than the town appraisal amount ‹ sometimes double. She said that is partly due to increased demand for property in the area because of snowmobilers.

Ms. Moore said she believes the weak stock market has also had an impact locally. Real estate is seen as a more solid investment these days, she said.

The difference between the sale prices of property and the town listers' appraisals is partly due to the fact that a reappraisal has been overdue, Ms. Moore said.

Joel Cope, the town of Brightonıs administrative assistant, said a reappraisal has been done, and the new Grand List to be released in the spring will show a "significant jump," but he would not say exactly how significant.

"We havenıt really had a reappraisal for ten years or so," he said, except for once adding 10 percent across the board as a stopgap measure. Mr. Cope said even though valuations will go up a lot, the news is not necessarily bad for Brighton taxpayers.

"The tax rate will drop significantly unless our budget climbs a lot," he said.

Asked if the increased number of snowmobilers costs the town of Brighton money, Mr. Cope said there are costs, but not huge ones, so far. "If they buy second homes weıve got to protect them from fire," he said, and there may be additional police protection costs at some point.

Selectman Ouida Testut said she feels more policing is needed. "They come here in such great numbers. They park anywhere they want to," she said. "Iım not against them. I just wish we had more control over them."

Mr. Cope said there are costs in terms of convenience for people who have to wait a long time to get gas, and in terms of the noise and smoke the machines create. But, he said, "thereıs no doubt that snowmobiling has brought a winter economy into Island Pond."

Mr. Goulet said he believes that eventually the noise and smoke problems will be less of an issue as people buy new machines with quieter, cleaner, four-stroke engines.

"That will keep everybody happy," he said.

He also said the cost of snowmobilers to the town is minimal, since theydonıt affect the schools or the roads much. He said the snowmobilers bring new money, and that means people can pay their taxes and buy new cars. "A ski area is nothing today," he said, noting that ski areas have been known to struggle financially.

Asked why the snowmobilers are drawn to Island Pond instead of some other town, Mr. Goulet said the draw is the lake, which freezes early, and the big country around Island Pond, including the former Champion land. People can come to Island Pond and ride their machines on "200 to 300 miles of open land that belongs to you and I."

"My wife blames it all on me," he added. He said his wife says he has ruined Island Pond by bringing so many snowmobiles to town. He has been telling summer tourists for ten years that they should come back in the winter. If one person tells ten others down south, he said, the word soon spreads.

The Island Pond Chamber of Commerce web site features a "web cam" picture of the lake, which is frozen and snowy. And it boasts of the wealth of natural resources, including bogs and remote ponds, to be discovered in the area. Among the rare species in the area are rock vole and southern bog lemming. In the boreal forest are spruce grouse, gray jay, rusty blackbird, three-toed woodpecker and others. The largest deer-wintering area in Vermont is in the Nulhegan Basin, according to the web site.

"Last year we were very, very, very busy because snow in the rest of the state did not exist," said Ms. Halpin at Kingdom Cat Corp. "This area holds its snow pack longer."

The effect of snowmobiles in Island Pond is not likely to get smaller. A management plan for the West Mountain Wildlife Management Area done for the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources just under a year ago says that snowmobiling is "one of the fastest growing recreational activities in the country. In Vermont, between 1992 and 2000, membership in VAST increased from 20,000 to 35,000, a 75 percent increase."

Mr. Goulet said he believes what Island Pond has seen so far is just the beginning of the economic boon the town will see from snowmobilers.

"Weıre going to be just like a little Stowe here," he said."Tourism is the future," Ms. Halpin agreed.

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