Benishek, Huizenga snowmobile through Manistee County

KALEVA — Cruising through the countryside on a snowmobile isn’t how U.S. congressmen usually travel, but this week two made their way through six counties on sleds making stops along the way to meet with constituents.

U.S. reps. Dan Benishek, R-Crystal Falls, and Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, took to the trails for the second annual Congressional Snowmobile Ride on Thursday and Friday to promote the sport as an economic driver in Northern Michigan.

Michigan’s outdoor economy contributes nearly $19 billion in annual spending, and accounts for 194,000 jobs, according to Outdoor Industries Association. Snowmobiling is part of that economic impact.

“The outdoor economy for Michigan is a pretty big deal, snowmobilers alone bring in about $1 billion a year,” Benishek said who’s congressional district includes Manistee County. “We try to highlight the snowmobile industry. Small towns depend a lot on this snowmobile business. A lot of people from out of state come here to ride … I think the average snowmobiler spends about $150 a day so that’s pretty good for the local economy.”

Snowmobilers spend roughly 2.4 million days riding, according to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Expenditures on snowmobiling equipment alone amounts to $235 million annually.

Trails have become an increasingly important part of Michigan’s recreation system and there are over 12,000 miles of hiking, multi-use, equestrian, off-road vehicle, and snowmobile trails throughout the statem according to the DNR. A snowmobiler can ride from the Indiana/Michigan border to the tip of the Upper Peninsula as part of the states’ 6,200 miles of interconnected snowmobile trails.

Benishek said the ride on Friday was great, with snowy trails that were in good condition.

“I was praying for snow,” he said.

The trails in Manistee County are maintained by the Benzie Manistee Snowbirds and Wellston Winter Promoters. Benishek and Huizenga took time to stop at the Snowbirds’ clubhouse on Friday for lunch and a question and answer session with attendees before hopping back on their sleds to head north to Benzie County for their final stop.

Friday morning’s trip began in Wellston.

At meetings throughout the trip, Benishek said constituents asked about the Keystone XL Pipeline, the economy and veterans’ issues.

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill to allow the Keystone pipeline, and that was also passed by the U.S. Senate. Benishek voted in favor of the legislation.

“I want to keep gas prices low, and keep jobs in our country,” he said.

The bill is awaiting either a signature or veto from President Barack Obama. It’s one of few pieces of legislation that have made it to the president’s desk in the past couple years.

“We’re hoping, with the Senate having a Republican majority now, we’ll get more done,” Benishek said.

There are 54 Republicans and 46 Democrats in the Senate. The House has 246 Republicans and 188 Democrats.

“We have a divided government,” Benishek said to the snowmobilers and guests at the clubhouse. “We’re going to have to compromise; I’m willing to compromise. If I can move my ball forward a little bit, even if I can’t get everything I want, I’m willing to do that.”

He said his biggest priorities for this legislative session are veterans’ access to healthcare and access to U.S. forests for timber harvesting.

Benishek is a member of the committees for agriculture, natural resources and veterans affairs.

A story published in the Jan. 31 edition of the News Advocate, “Down the trail: Benishek, Huizenga snowmobile through Manistee County,” incorrectly implied that the snowmobile trails in Manistee County are maintained by one group. The trails are maintained by both the Benzie-Manistee Snowbirds and Wellston Winter Promotions. The Snowbirds maintain north of Manistee River, while the Wellston group is charged with trails south of the river.

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Posted by Justine McGuire

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