Off Trail Riding
It seems every year new issues rise to the top, and for the past several years the growth of off-trail riding has been hovering near the top of the list. This fall the MSA organized a discussion between landowners, outfitters and lodges to see if some agreement could be reached on how to get a handle on it. The primary concerns are safety, followed closely by property damage, particularly tree plantations, and what seems to be a sense of entitlement on the part of some riders.
Off-trail riding has been an ongoing problem in southern and central Maine, with riders veering off marked trails on agricultural lands. These problems have been relatively easy to solve through a combination of signage and enforcement. The more recent issues are the result of the significant growth in sales of mountain sleds. Those sleds are becoming a good piece of the snowmobile market, and many riders mistakenly believe that their use in Maine is the equivalent of off trail opportunities in the western states.
By tradition, most of Maine's forestlands are open to public use for a wide range of activities, including snowmobiling, with one important caveat: as long as those uses don't disrupt or damage their operations or place a burden to the landowners. They are, after all, in business to manage those lands to make a profit for their owners and investors. The snowmobile trail system is based on that understanding, which is why it isn't unusual to see trails rerouted or occasionally closed during the course of a season to accommodate logging operations or other activities that may be taking place on the land.
Landowners spend a lot of money every year investing in their property and those investments may or may not show up under the snow. For example, hundreds of acres are replanted every year, and it is not the responsibility of the landowners to expend the time or money needed to educate off-trail riders as to where that is taking place.
Additional issues are safety and liability on roads that may or not be plowed, have bridges out, gates or other hazards. Again, it is not the responsibility of landowners to keep off-trail riders informed of what is happening on their property.
One of the outcomes of the meeting last fall was a general agreement that everyone is reluctant to pursue legislation to regulate this activity, at least for the time being. It is hoped that better education and more awareness of the issues will be enough to keep the activity under control. In the meantime, here is what riders can do to help keep this land open for all riders:
Stay off all plowed roads. This is illegal, and presents a serious safety hazard. Those roads represent a significant investment and are intended solely for transporting wood and equipment. These roads may be in use 24/7 and are no place for sleds, private vehicles and trailers.
The same goes for log yards. They may be empty when you arrive, but they are never intended to be parking lots for pickup trucks and trailers, they are for off-loading wood headed to the marketplace.
Snow covers everything and that includes newly planted seedings or any number of obstacles or hazards. If you're unsure, check locally or just don't go. Keep in mind that calling the landowner isn't an option. Their employees are there to keep their operations moving, not to provide sledding updates to wannabee off-trail riders. Check with locals, or better yet Hire a guide. This is the first suggestion when people call the MSA office about off-trail riding. Guides are generally well connected to the forest landowners, know local conditions and can certainly help provide a high quality off-trail experience. There are also several lodges and outfitters in northern Maine that specialize in off-trail excursions.
Hopefully this season will show that the education efforts will help reduce problems off trail that could affect snowmobiling across the state.
2018 marks fifty years of statewide organized snowmobiling in Maine.
The Maine Legislature recently passed a joint resolution recognizing the MSA on its fiftieth aniversary. The portion of the document reproduced below acknowledges the contributions that the MSA has made to snowmobiling and to the Maine economy, and congratulates the members of the association on this milestone anniversary. The document was available for viewing at the MSA Annual Meeting on April 21 in Palmyra.
The MSA has been an active and involved part of the Maine winters since 1968. From an initial meeting of six dedicated snowmobilers, the MSA has grown to 280+ clubs statewide with thousands of families and supporting businesses from Sanford to Allagash.
The focus in the early days is little changed in 2018. Landowner relations has played a vital role in building and maintaining a trail system that has now grown to over 14,000 miles. Safety has also been an important part of the MSA's mission. Working closely with the Maine Warden Service, the MSA has been at the forefront of setting standards for safety, and has worked tirelessly in the halls of the Legislature to shape the laws that have enabled trail funding and common sense safety regulations.
Maine's 14,000 miles of trails are now regarded by riders from across the country as the finest in the Northeast. From a web of club trails, pioneers like Joe Firlotte, Lewis Newell and Les Ames created the numbered ITS Trail System that now supports a network of local trails that reaches just about anywhere a rider would need to be in Maine.
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