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2017-12-06 / Front Page

Snowmobile Season Officially Opens

by Stephen King

The official snowmobile season in Michigan runs from December 1 through March 31 each year; however, the State-sanctioned snowmobile season primarily covers State-sponsored trails that are signed, numbered and groomed.

A large part of the State’s more than 6,400 miles of snowmobile trails run across private property. There has to be an easement obtained each year from property owners to allow snowmobile trails to cross their property. The easement states that the snowmobile trails are open from December 1 through March 31 .

State land is open to all users year-round. If there is still a lot of snow on the ground in May it’s still perfectly legal to run a snowmobile on the trails.

In years when there is no snow for the start of snowmobile season, it’s still legal to run an ATV across the State-owned portion of the trail system.

Even so, private land owners who allow snowmobile trails on their land do not necessarily have to let ATVs use those trails.

Paul E. Gaberdiel, a DNR trail specialist for the Eastern U.P who works out of the Newberry District office, stated, “A lot of people ask if they can ride an ORV or snowmobile, now, on the trails. There’s no yesor no answer for this question. It’s very complicated.

“On State land, the answer is ‘yes.’ There’s nothing that prohibits users from running an ORV down a snowmobile trail at any time of the year. But Federally owned lands have their own rules, and riders have to go by what is allowed. On private property the landowner decides what users can use a trail.”

The DNR negotiates contracts with private landowners each year, and owners can and do state specifically what users are allowed. Owners can allow snowmobiles and nothing else. Conversely, they could allow dog sleds or ORVs and nothing else. The owner cannot allow any type of easement, which is why trail user groups are so eager to keep landowners that allow trails on their property happy.

“There’s also no set amount of snow needed to open a trail,” Gaberdiel continued. “We leave this up to the sponsor clubs. They make the decision when to go out and groom.

“We also remind users that many of the trails in this area don’t open on December 1. They actually don’t open until the end of Muzzleloader season.”

But whenever and whatever people choose to ride, it’s always advised to check on trail conditions before setting out. “There are a lot of places online that people can access,” said Gaberdiel. “One place I recommend is the Michigan Snowmobile Association home page. It has information on trail conditions that’s usually very up to date. You also can find the group on Facebook.”

In addition, most area chambers of commerce and snowmobile sponsor clubs maintain information sections about trail conditions.

“Use some common sense when riding,” concluded Gaberdiel. “Be considerate of other user groups. Realize that riding an ORV down a trail can cause damage and may ruin it for other users. Always be safe when you ride.”

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