Members of a Kenai Peninsula snowmachine club say the free ride must to come to an end. With the Caribou Hills Cabin Hoppers snowmachine club’s membership and volunteer base dwindling, a tiring group of core members say they may have to cancel this year’s kickoff unless someone volunteers to lead the event by Thursday.
“We haven’t had anyone step up to the plate and want to volunteer. Everyone wants a free meal and a good time,” said Les Crane, the club’s president.
The club, which was established nearly 20 years ago, grooms 68 miles of trails in the Caribou Hills every week during the winter and supports a long list of recreational events and organizations, including the Way Out Women cancer ride, Tustumena 200 dog sled race, the Kenai Fun Run and NAPA Fun Run supporting SAFE KIDS riding program.
But while plenty of people continue to show up to enjoy the benefits of the club’s work, in the last couple of years fewer people have shown an interest in supporting it, Crane said.
While the group does a tremendous amount of work, it has almost all been supported by a nucleus of about 20 people for years, said Howard Davis, the club’s treasurer.
“We’re needing new fresh faces to come volunteer and come help us out,” Crane said. “It’s been the same group of people for the last 20 years.”
The club’s membership has gone from a high of 340 members about five or six years ago to a low of about 229 last year, according to Noland Compton, the club’s membership coordinator, and Davis.
Crane said he doesn’t understand why the membership has fallen when so many people take advantage of the club’s trail maintenance and events, and when membership fees are so affordable, costing just $25 a year per family and $15 per individual.
“To me that’s a pretty insignificant amount, especially for the number of people who ride our trails in the Caribou Hills,” he said. “There’s gotta be a thousand to two thousand people up there on any given weekend.”
The club’s annual kickoff, which includes a raffle, pot luck, door prizes and gives attendees the chance to check out the latest snowmachines, has attracted as many as 500 people.
The kickoff has been held every year since the club was established and has been open to everyone. If the event is held this year, however, the club plans to restrict the kickoff to members only in an effort to encourage more snowmachiners to join the club’s membership.
“Probably over 50 percent of the people who come to the event are nonmembers,” he said. “One idea we have of why our membership is down is, why be a member if you can get everything for free? Right now there aren’t any real benefits to being a member other than saying you’re a member.”
Crane said the club hopes that restricting the kickoff to members but at the same time allowing people to become members at the door, will provide more snowmachiners an incentive to become members.
Davis said the importance of getting the club’s membership up has little to do with the money collected from membership fees and more to do with giving the club the numbers to back up requests for more snowmachine trails and grants that support the club’s work.
“Our membership money wouldn’t pay for the fuel to groom,” he said. “Grants and pull tabs are what pay for the club.”
Although the club relies on volunteers to coordinate the club’s events and groom trails, without the money collected from grants and pull tabs, there would be no grooming equipment and few resources with which the club could support its activities, he said.
However, Noland and Davis said they think the group’s woes may be part of a larger trend in which fewer and fewer people are interested in volunteering their time to support clubs and nonprofit volunteer groups.
“I don’t think our organization is different than a lot of the volunteer organizations in that in general it’s just hard to get people to volunteer and do things.”
Patrice Kohl can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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