Some Whitehall business people hope voters’ decision to allow snowmobiling in the city will benefit their businesses.
This map shows the location of snowmobile trails in Muskegon County. Whitehall did not allow snowmobiling within city limits, but voters approved a proposal to allow it.
Voters approved a ballot proposal promoted by the White Lake Area Chamber of Commerce to allow snowmobiling within Whitehall city limits between the hours of 7 a.m. and midnight. Unofficial results Tuesday indicated 795 people voted for the proposal and 528 voted against it.
Whitehall had previously banned the use of snowmobiles within city limits.
The ballot language didn’t specify exactly where snowmobiling would be allowed – only that it would be legal Dec. 1 through April 1 on routes designated by city council members.
John Dillivan, who co-owns Pekadill’s restaurant, said part of the reason he supported the proposal was that he enjoys snowmobiling and his taxes go toward maintaining Whitehall’s bike trails that are largely unused after the snow falls.
“It’s extremely inconvenient for people in Whitehall to have to trailer up their snowmobile and go to Montague to launch,” he said.
Dillivan said he also expects snowmobiling will help businesses in town that see little demand after the summer tourists leave. He pointed out some people who drive their snowmobiles through Whitehall may decide to come back at another time of the year.
“Snowmobilers spend about $150 a day in gas and food and often lodging,” he said. “Any shot in the arm in winter is welcome.”
City Manager Scott Huebler said staff and city council members will put together a committee to look at possible routes and any other rules that may need to be part of a snowmobiling ordinance. The earliest that it could go into effect is Dec. 12 because of the legal requirement to publish proposed ordinances a certain number of days before council votes on them.
“We’re just kicking around a lot of ideas at this point,” he said.
The city has speed limits of 25 mph in some areas and the ballot proposal limited the hours snowmobiles could be used, Dillivan said, so he doesn’t anticipate any friction between snowmobilers and other residents.
“We’ll get rid of the old snowmobiler stereotype slowly, but it’ll happen,” he said.
White Lake Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Amy VanLoon said she thought a stronger effort to address residents’ concerns led to the measure passing this time. Residents had voted down similar proposals three times in the past.
Snowmobiles make less noise than in the past, she said, and are roughly comparable to a lawn mower.
“The snowmobiler today isn’t reckless. They’re not crazy,” she said. “This is a family recreational activity.”