It’s a problem every year in the ice skating season in upstate New York. This year is no different, and mild winters seem to have only worsened things.
It is a question of snowmobiles that ride designated lanes on the ground where they are not supposed to be on them, thus stopping the landowners who have given permission to lane on their property.
Results? The landowner decides to close his portion of the track and forbids snowboarding on his land. When sections of the driveway are closed, members of the Private Snowmobile Club, who volunteer their time to clean and maintain lanes and place road signs, are forced to quickly exit an alternate route – if they can.
Sometimes they just can’t.
The end result could be a permanent or forever closure that can eliminate a major artery or major artery in the club’s pathway system. Bottom line: Many law-abiding and conscientious skaters suffer from “joint head” or “stupid” actions by a few, according to snowmobile club officials interviewed.
A classic example of this problem happened earlier this season with Hamburg Snowmobile Club A trail system in County Erie.
Jason Larson, the club’s president has posted several letters at Club page on Facebook Snowmobiles around the lanes. The latter says: “The lanes are closed. Stay home before we lose any more landowners.”
In late December, Hamburg FC opened their tracks for a few days after falling 5 to 10 inches of snow. The trail system of this club and others in the area were immediately flooded with passengers – a number that either deviated from the track system or traveled to it over other nearby land where they did not have permission to ride.
Larson said the anonymous skiers left the lane system on one property and stopped and boarded the property’s deer platform. In another case, a few stopped, lit a landlord’s gas stove, warm themselves and left, leaving beer cans strewn on the floor.
The result, he said, was the closure of two sections about 10 miles long – sections that allowed access to the new club’s driveway nanny and the nanny’s barn. Larson said his club has since rerouted part of the closed track and is still trying to figure out what to do about the other closed track.
Larson added, “It’s not hard enough to get the paths higher and in shape. Now we have to redirect the path because of the idiots. We are a totally volunteer organization. We don’t pay. We do this on our own time. To be honest, it’s totally frustrating.”
Dave Waples, president of the Erie County Federation of Snow Clubs, said this isn’t a unique problem in Erie County, it happens across the state. He said he and other officials at the local Snowmobile Club in Erie County received a lot of calls from angry landowners in late December about the “bad behavior” of skiers. Ten snowmobile clubs are members of the county union.
He said, “Some of the complaints resulted in road closures, and others did not.” “Putting clubs in the position of having to go out and make up. You have joint heads outside that feel they can ride wherever they want.”
Trails coordinator Jim Rolfe at the New York State Ice Buggy Association said snowboarders who leave marked trails navigate, in addition to being open to unknown dangers such as fallen trees, rocks or frozen waterways that may not be safe to cross.
Finally, skiers who walk out of the trails risk damaging farmland. “It’s a problem, a big problem,” he said.
“In many cases, the designated lane is the only place you have to ride,” he said. “If you leave the lane and do not know its land, or you do not get express permission from the property owner
The truth is, Waples said, is that these trespassing snowmobiles are hard to catch because they ride at all times of the day and a law enforcement official has to be there to catch them. He said the Trail camera photos don’t usually stand up as evidence.
Larson has posted several messages warning snow riders to stay on the club’s tracks. He said one of them was shared about 20,000 times. He said, “I got a call from a man in Alaska who said they had the same problem there.”
Larson compared the behavior of these irresponsible vehicles on ice to someone who rides on a highway with his car and decides to pull back and go for a drive in someone’s backyard and “make donuts”.
“It shows complete disrespect for the owner of the property,” he said.