Almost any northern New Yorker will tell you that cold weather is no reason to stay indoors, that outdoor recreation is here to be had year round and that one of the most exciting ways to enjoy winter recreation is on the thousands of miles of interconnected snowmobile trails found in northern New York. Snowmobiling provides great opportunities for family recreation during the winter months. It's a healthy form of recreational activity that combines sightseeing with adventure and is an awesome experience for people of all ages.
Snowmobiling continues to be one of the fastest-growing sports in the country. According to the international Snowmobile Manufacturers Association (ISMA), there are now more than 10 million active North American snowmobilers. Four out of five consider snowmobiling to be a first-rate family sport.
Almost all snowsledders experience the beauty and the freedom of the open trail on public-access snowmobile trail systems, like the ones found here in northern New York. And with that freedom and riding enjoyment comes a lot of responsibility. In fact, when operating a snowmobile, we are accepting responsibility not just for our own safety but for the safety of other trail users, snowmobilers and non-snowmobilers such as cross-country skiers, snowshoers and dogsledders as well. We know that being safety conscious and courteous to other trail users at all times is an essential part of snowmobiling.
Some of you will be operating a snowmobile and/or using our trail system for the first time this year. Before hitting the trail, it is imperative that you acquire all of the skills needed to safely operate your snowmobile. You must fully appreciate your responsibilities as a snowmobiler and behave accordingly. You must be willing to help foster proper attitudes toward snowmobiling, public trail systems and the environment, and have at least a basic understanding of the mechanical functioning of your sled. You must also understand and obey all of the laws governing snowmobiling, not just the written laws that carry penalties for noncompliance but the universally accepted guidelines as well.
Last, but certainly not least, you must recognize the value of and become familiar with fundamental winter survival skills. One of the reasons that snowmobiling has become so popular is that it takes you into such remarkably beautiful environments. But those environments also can be frighteningly unforgiving, especially when you are not properly prepared.
Whether you are a beginner or an old hand, things can go wrong. And even the most experienced snowmobilers occasionally make mistakes.
In order to legally operate a snowmobile on public-access snowmobile trails without adult or other supervision, snowmobilers age 10 through 17 must complete a NYS-certified safety training course. Upon successful completion of the course, safety certificates are issued by the commissioner of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. Those who do not hold a certificate are subject to the same restrictions as children under the age of 10.
The primary objectives of any snowmobile-safety course are to decrease the potential for snowmobile accidents, injuries and fatalities, and to reduce the potential for conflict between snowmobilers and landowners, and between snowmobilers and other trail system and resource users. Conscientious snowsledders encourage and practice safe, responsible and ethical use of our trails, the environment and our natural resources.
Snowmobiling allows us to recognize, appreciate and respect the unequalled and unspoiled beauty of the Adirondack Mountains and the Champlain and St. Lawrence valleys while savoring the adventure, exhilaration and freedom of the open trail. If we all agree to adhere to a few basic guiding principles, snowmobiling can be a safe sport that everyone can recognize the value of and enjoy.
By sponsoring New York state-recognized snowmobile safety courses, which emphasize safe and responsible snowmobile operation, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Franklin County, and especially our 4-H educators, are taking an active role in assuring that children, as well as adults in our region, are given the opportunity to safely enjoy this exciting winter sport. Our 4-H educators recognize the importance of recreation and leisure in the lives of those they serve, and the fact that quality recreational experiences contribute to the overall growth of our communities' young people and their balanced development into responsible adults.
SAFETY COURSE IN PAUL SMITHS
Extension-sponsored snowmobile safety courses are offered in two four-hour sessions. This season, our first course is being offered at North Country Community College in Malone on Dec. 13 and 14. That class is full. A second course is scheduled for Jan. 10 and 24 at the Adirondack Park Agency Visitor Interpretive Center in Paul Smiths. If you would like to sign a child up for that course, please contact Cornell Cooperative Extension of Franklin County at 483-7403. Registration is now being taken on a first-come, first-served basis. Class size is limited, and the course will fill up quickly.
Additional information and a comprehensive list of all of the state-certified snowmobile safety courses currently being offered in New York state can be found online at nysparks.state.ny.us/snow/edu_snow.asp. The list of courses is updated weekly.
See you on the trails!