By Ethan Wallace, Director, Ontario Federation of Agriculture
Another Canadian winter is upon us, and with the arrival of fresh white snow, it’s the perfect opportunity for Ontarians to get outdoors and enjoy their favourite winter activities. My family jumped on the bandwagon last year and began snowmobiling, which has been a great sport to get involved in. Spanning more than 30,000 kilometres, Ontario has an extensive trail system across the province which offers the chance to experience the countryside from a different view.
Local snowmobile clubs consist of passionate and dedicated volunteers working hard to groom trails, expand the network, and provide a fun experience for all riders. They build and maintain relationships with local farmers and landowners to ensure the continued use of their land for the enjoyment of everyone. While trail systems benefit the economy, the farmer receives no financial compensation for allowing access to their land.
However, social media has already highlighted incidents of trespassing and property damage due to snowmobile riders disregarding trail signs. The Ontario Federation of Agriculture (OFA) would like to remind all riders of the responsibility to respect surrounding land and stay on the existing trail network. Having access to these trails through farm and rural properties is a privilege, not a right. It’s important to be respectful and remember there would be no continuous trail system without permission from farmers and rural landowners.
The Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs (OFSC), in collaboration with the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP), has also recently put a call out reminding all riders to ride responsibly, make smart choices and ensure the safety of themselves and others along the trails.
We encourage snowmobilers to visit the OFSC website regularly to ensure the trails they’re riding are open and well-groomed. Riders can find the province-wide trail map at ofsc.on.ca/trail-map. The reason is because experience shows there is a direct connection between poor trail conditions and increased trespassing on farmland and rural properties. When trails are closed, riders become increasingly impatient and ride them anyway, which not only worsens the condition of the trail but further delays the reopening as well. Making a conscious decision to bypass an ungroomed trail or cut corners is not a reasonable excuse for riding on farmland and causing potential damage. Riders abusing the local trail system run the risk of losing the privilege for the entire community.
Going off the trail and onto farm property causes significant issues for several reasons. To start, the snow does an excellent job at hiding everything. Crop damage is very possible if riders enter a field of a vulnerable winter wheat crop. Furthermore, it can be extremely dangerous to enter land that may have an unseen catch basin, buried furrow, or stone piles which has the potential to be catastrophic for equipment and riders.
As a result, some farmers lose patience with disrespectful riders and revoke permission to access their land. This jeopardizes the future of an expanding trail system. As a trail rider, it is frustrating to think about those who are ruining this activity and experience for others. As someone who also rents land that is a part of the trail network, I am disappointed in the lack of initiative taken to keep trails clean. Riders should have the sense and respect to pick up their garbage and leave the trail as they found it.
It is also important to consider the impact these actions have on local snowmobile clubs. Farmers gain no compensation for damage to crops, equipment or land and often, snowmobile clubs will take ownership for irresponsible riders and offer compensation to landowners. Riding clubs deserve a lot of credit due to a limited budget. In turn, this compensation cuts into trail grooming and expansion to improve conditions for the future. In addition, trail permit cost increases can also result.
The OFSC has been committed to spreading awareness and communications about safe and responsible trail riding. Last year, the organization’s “Friends don’t ride with friends” campaign aimed to educate and encourage members not to ride with people who trespass, disrespect landowner property, risk the safety of themselves and other rides or jeopardize the trail system.
It’s great that more people have been getting out on the trails due to the COVID pandemic, but there is a responsibility that needs to be acknowledged to ensure the security of this sport in the future. I encourage all riders to be safe and respectful this winter season, while enjoying the views of this province through the lens of our extensive trail network.
For more information, contact:
Director of Communications and Stakeholder Relations
Ontario Federation of Agriculture
519-821-8883 ext. 218