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Snowmobilers are people too!

March 6, 2012 - John Stack
Here is a story that will sound too familiar to many Adirondacker outdoor enthusiasts. Specifically hunters and snowmobilers. In September 2010 Michigan attorney Kurt Meister won a lawsuit against the USDA Forest Service. Mr Meister has a cottage in Cadillac, in a part of the Huron-Manistee National Forest. He didn’t like that he had to hear possibly hunters in the fall and snowmobilers in the winter. He successfully sued to ban snowmobiles and hunters in the nearly 70,000 acre area. His logic was that the USDA favors hunters and snowmobilers over the rights of ‘quiet’ users. In Michigan, they have ‘land use plans’ similar to the APA. Luckily, the US Forest Service chose to change the classification of this area of National Forest, rather than bar hunters and snowmobilers.

The solution had the support of the State legislature also. Part of the reason for the decision was that by defining the whole 70,000 acres ‘quiet’, there was no way to guarantee that. Many of the snowmobile trails run along roads, and there was no way the Forest Service could stop cars that drive by from disturbing the quiet of the area. Under Forest Service regulations, if a conflict exists between the description of a management area and what actually exists on the ground, the service is required to change the description.“The way we identify these areas in our forest plan will change, but the way we actually manage them will not change,” said spokesman Ken Arbogast.

I will state a disclaimer: I like to ride road bikes, mountain bikes, trail run, hike, snowmobile, fish , snowshoe and cross country ski. I don’t personally see why there should be much disagreement between these parties. But that is of course not always so.

In New Hampshire the owner of a snowmobile rental shop ‘Lil Man Snowmobile Rentals’,, Ed Furlong ran his business for years on his property, which connected close by to the state forest (which has snowmobile trails). For well over a decade, his shop used a connector trail that crossed over property owned by the Bartlett Water Precinct. Its just a trail through the woods, but maintained by the Bartlett Rec Commission. Furlong claims that the owner of a local cross country ski shop, $Ed Garland, started complaining about snowmobiles on the cross country ski trails about 1999. Soon thereafter, Garland became a selectman (like a town councilman) . In September 2008, the water district decided that the trail was no longer open to the public (the case doesn’t really say why it closed off public access). In November 2008, the town placed large stones across the access points to this trail. Now, its probable that the water district had the right to limit access, but why would they do it? Forget the acrimony between the land owners and such. Just because possibly one guy dislikes another, and he’s in a position of influence, should he be able to change public access for personal reasons? There is nothing about whether anyone would be ticketed for cross country skiing on the property. In fact, you can drive down this access road from the State Forest Trails, you just can’t get off them. Seemingly, more about limiting use of snowmobiles is at work here more than any other valid concern.

This is a personal case for me. My family still owns nearly 100 acres in Salisbury New York. Growing up, we literally lived a mile down a dirt road. No one between us and the paved ‘goat path’ that was the ‘main road’. About 25 or so years ago, my dad sold off 15 acres to a local guy. He ended up building, then selling years later to a New York City guy. A couple years back, the land to the South on the other side of the road (Military Rd) came up for sale. It had been owned for 45 years by a guy from New Jersey who rarely came up. A local farmer hayed his 65 acres. An old road Hurley Lane)is at the West end of the property. It is a non maintained road which runs down to the Saterlee Road. The owners on the west side of the road are all out of towners who never come up. The road is technically the town’s road.

Bad things happened when the NYC guy bought the land. First thing he did was erect a locked gate at the north end of Hurley Lane. This would keep out four wheelers as well as snowmobilers, as there is a small brook there you couldn’t get around. Now to give perspective, this is an extremely well used trail for snowmobilers. In our back field, the trail splits. On a good weekend, we might see hundreds and hundreds of snowmobilers go through. And we’ve always been proud to allow this. Now, some local guys didn’t take well to this gate, and cut the chains. The NYC guy put them back up. It took having a town highway guy there under the threat of arresting the NYC guy on grounds of interfering with a government workers job (or something of the like). Technically, this still seems to be public property. But, to mitigate the problem, they came up with a deal to allow snowmobiles in the winter, but not 4 wheelers in the summer (Gate comes up after snowmobile season). This guy had no real reason (or right) to deny access for snowmobilers, but did because he felt he could. I guess his property rights mentality of a downstate New Yorker made him do it.

Compare this to New Hampshire. While you need to have permission to snowmobile on someone else’s private land, you don’t need the same to HUNT on private land. You must respect landowners, but as long as the land is not posted as ‘No trespassing for hunting/fishing/etc’ you can hunt on someone’s private land! Its because New Hampshire has a long history of sharing the eland that goes back hundreds of years. I’d like to see how my ‘neighbor’ from Salisbury would fare in that state!


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