While it’s a problem when government does things the wrong way, a more serious situation arises when government tries to do things it shouldn’t.
One thing it shouldn’t be doing is operate recreational activities, especially when private businesses provide the same service. The most common example is the municipal golf course. A more obscure example is a state-owned and run ski hill in the far reaches of Michigan’s upper peninsula.
This last ski season, the state–facing a budget crunch and public scrutiny in light of some publications by the PolicyGuy and the Mackinac Center for Public Policy–contracted out the operation of the Porcupine Mountain ski area to a private concern.
The original contract was for one year. Obviously that’s too short of a time to provide any incentive for improvements to the lift equipment, the making of new trails, and so forth.
But thankfully, the two parties have just now come to a 15-year agreement. While that is short (similar contracts between the U.S. Forest Service and ski companies in Aspen, Vail, etc. run for 40 years), it does provide make some improvements financially worthwhile for the contractor.
The transition from government operation to private operation is not always easy, and there have been a few unexpected moguls (bumps) on this ski hill transition. Some local skiers have expressed dissatisfaction with the new contractor’s grooming management, especially of the cross-country trails. But Gliberman says that he met and even exceeded the standards set by the contract.
According to the Globe report, “Gliberman said half-way through the skiing season, he changed the approach to grooming and that satisfied many skiers.”
I haven’t seen the new contract, but perhaps it makes some provisions that will satisfy even more people in the area. On the other hand, a few skiers have, for many years, enjoyed meticulous groomed snow at public expense. So if the state decided to economize, by not paying for as much grooming, well, that’s just one thing to suggest that the old state subsidy was more generous than first thought.
Some local folks may volunteer to help with the maintenance. If there’s not a market for cross-country trails, then it’s only reasonable–and commendable–for civil society to step in to fill the gap, rather than rely on taxpayers, especially those scattered throughout the rest of the state.
Says the Globe, “Friends of the Porkies will discuss assisting with finances for grooming cross-country ski trails and might be able to assist with interpretive programs, which were not done this past winter. [County Commissioner] Antila said she felt the meeting was very worthwhile.”
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