Snowmobiling Off Trail – Public or Private? Snowmobiling Off Trail – Public or Private?
So you’re riding on a groomed trail and you see some inviting land off trail that begs to be tracked up. We’ve all been... Snowmobiling Off Trail – Public or Private?

So you’re riding on a groomed trail and you see some inviting land off trail that begs to be tracked up. We’ve all been there, over and over again. Every one of us likes to tear up the fresh, untracked snow.

Before you peel off the trail and tear it up, you MUST ask yourself – is this land public or private?

If you don’t KNOW the answer, don’t go off the trail!

Pretty simple, eh? So, why is this basic common sense logic so often ignored?

This is an increasing problem, particularly in areas where there is NO public land and FEW off trail riding opportunities, but it is a problem everywhere groomed trails are located. Riders seem to have the idea that if land isn’t posted closed it must be open for them to ride on. NOT! Snowmobilers MUST know if the land they are about to ride onto is public or private, each and every time they decide to go off a groomed or marked trail.

This is the premise upon which we propose to have new trail signs created, so clubs can remind riders who come across such inviting areas. Public or Private? If you don’t know, don’t go!
As a general rule, you are legal to ride on groomed snowmobile trails, on un-plowed forest roads, along most roads in the public right-of-way (ditch) along the road, and on certain public lands. Other than that, you have to assume the land is PRIVATE and to track it up is ILLEGAL trespassing.

So, you go make a few tracks off the trail, big deal, right? This is the exact attitude that gets trails closed. Landowners everywhere are being disrespected by snowmobilers taking liberties and trespassing on their private land, so they tell the trail club to close the trail and go elsewhere. You know how it is, a favorite trail no longer goes where it used to, ever wonder why? In almost every single case, it is because the landowner gets upset with continual trespassing onto their private property. Use of private land is a PRIVLEDGE, not a RIGHT.

What is really troubling is the trail clubs will have such areas clearly marked with “Stay on Trail” signs, but there are sled tracks going off trail all over the place. Since we know the riders can read English, we then know for a fact the riders are simply IGNORING the signs and doing whatever they want to. Why would the club take the time to post such signs? Um, because the trail is on private land and have been told the trail will be closed if the snowmobilers keep going off trail? Hello?

Hate to say it, but this is more of a problem with younger riders than it is older ones, and it is usually more of a problem with out-of-town riders than it is local ones. Generally, but not always. Mature riders do not want their local trails closed, nor do they want to upset their neighbors they live near to. Simple logic here. Younger riders seem to have the “entitlement” attitude where everyone owes them something and they can do as they please, that the rules don’t apply to them. When a snowmobiler knowingly goes off trail onto private land, they are showing disrespect for the landowner, the local club that worked so hard to place the trail, and the sport as a whole.

We see this more and more where we ride in the U.P. of Michigan. For some reason, people think that “off-trail” riding means tearing up the fields next to the groomed trails. If you see an open field next to a groomed trail, it is almost always private property. That is why it is open and not wooded, somebody cleared the land. It should be just as logical that if you can see houses and farms, you are on private land. Pretty basic common sense, but too many snowmobilers seem to be lacking this intelligence.

Even within tracts of public land, there are often smaller pieces of private land grandfathered in that were there long before the national (or state) forest was created. Just because you are in the middle of a great big piece of public land doesn’t mean it is 100% public, rarely is. Snowmobilers need to pay attention. They need to study maps, carry a GPS, and be keen to what sections of trail are located on private land and what sections are on public land.

Moral of the story, know the laws and know the lay of the land where you are going to be riding. Know where the private land ends and where the public land starts. Each and every state or national forest now has land use regulations, it is your responsibility to know what the rules are where you will be riding. Know what is legal and what is not legal to ride. Do not assume an open unless posted closed policy, verify it. What might be acceptable behavior back home for you might not be acceptable behavior where you are going to be riding. It is each rider’s responsibility to know the laws and legalities of snowmobiling in each area they visit.

The future of our sport and groomed trail system depends on this vital compliance. Each year trails are closed, rerouted and made less desirable due to the ignorance of a few. Ride only where legal. Leave your loud exhaust systems at home, as they also cause land owners to close trails. You might think riding a loud machine is your right, but it is not, especially when we are riding on private land. Stay on the trail and forest roads unless you know for a fact the land is open for you to legally ride on. Behavior like this is closing trails for the rest of us. Pretty soon, areas that used to welcome snowmobilers will be pulling up the welcome mat, telling the tourists to stay home. For those of you who don’t remember what it was like to ride back in the 70’s with no groomed trails, you just might get the chance to find out if you continue this behavior.

I would like to think that since you are reading this, you are not part of the problem but part of the solution in doing what we can to educate those less informed. Peer pressure is perhaps the best deterrent, but then again, it is very difficult to control ignorance and stupidity. We must at least try to salvage what we have before it is too late.

Kevin Beilke – Editor

  • Robert

    May 3, 2018 #1 Author

    Pretty simple common-sense article unfortunately most people that abused the trail systems don’t have any common sense this is not only a snowmobiling issue it’s also an ATV and UTV trail system issue hopefully some resolve will come to it and we don’t lose all of our trails

  • Bill Nemanis

    November 6, 2018 #2 Author

    We have more ignorant, arrogant people who believe for some reason that it is their birth right to ignore the right of other people who want to protect their property. This seems to be an alarming trend especially among new riders in the last five to ten years. A total lack of respect that has cost us the use of some beautiful trails and if it isn’t stopped soon, will cost us much more! l

  • John Grones

    January 7, 2019 #3 Author

    Hi Kevin…. we had a request from our local snowmobile club to reprint your article in our local newspaper. Kindly let us know if you would be willing to do this?

    Thanks you, John Grones, Publisher

  • Keith Y

    December 7, 2019 #4 Author

    Me and my family live on a trail. Right after they groom a couple local kids use the trail. They run their machines at very high speeds. Way past tge speed limit which is 55mph. I would guess they would be pushing at least 100mph or more.
    Now our son likes to play at the end of the driveway on the snow mounds. He calls them his forts. He kicks snow off the piles back onto the snow trail. And our lot is small so with a house, garage, and propane tank to plow the snow ends up at the end of the driveway. And where the kid plays mostly. And also on the trail. I have no where else to plow it to. Not anywhere that it wouldn’t cost us hundreds of dollies once the snow melts and turns to ice. Over and over again. If the snow is a little closer to the buildings or tank we end up with an ice rink that is very dangerous to everyone coming and leaving the house. It’s illegal to push the snow across the county road or into it. But I’ve never heard of it being illegal to plow it into the ditch where the trail is. I have no choice. Or land is less than an acre. So trees and buildings take up most of the lot. And again we would end up spending a few thousand dollars for all the salt we would need. Not to mention all the work it would take. I’m disabled our child is 10 so he isn’t very strong and my wife couldn’t do that kind of work. Not like that every day. So we push the snow into the ditch. We always thought that’s what you do with the snow anyways because that is what it’s for. And keeps you yard from flooding in the spring.

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