While the thermometer may not show it just yet, winter has arrived and a number of winter outdoor sport seasons are set to begin. One of the most popular in our region of New York is snowmobiling. Along with providing outdoor fun and excitement, snowmobiling also helps stimulate our state’s economy with many small businesses depending on a steady stream of sledding enthusiasts.
According to a study conducted by the New York State Snowmobile Association, snowmobiling generates $868 million in annual economic activity in New York – with much of that business taking place in the upstate region. This information showcases just how critical outdoor sportsmen are to hotels, gas stations, restaurants, and other tourism related businesses.
According to the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation (OPRHP), there are over 10,300 miles in the Statewide Snowmobile Trail System traversing 47 counties, maintained by over 200 clubs, and funded through 55 municipal sponsors. The vast trail network is comprised of lands under the jurisdiction of OPRHP, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), NYS Canal Corporation, national forest land, local governments and many private landowners who have increasingly opened their property to snowmobiling with insurance coverage provided by the state snowmobile program.
The state snowmobile program was created by the legislature to fulfill several objectives:
Promote the proper and safe use and operation of snowmobiles;
Provide an adequate safety education program for young operators;
Encourage the sport of snowmobiling as a family activity;
Limit the operation of snowmobiles upon public highways and private property without the consent of the owner;
Protect and preserve the state's natural resources, including its wildlife, wild forests, waters and scenic and wilderness character;
Reduce the effect on the environment of excess noise;
Insure privacy of remote areas;
Afford opportunity for compatible enjoyment of various recreational activities on the state's lands and open spaces.
New York is a leader in snowmobile education and offers safety training for snowmobilers of all ages beginning at age 10. Courses are taught by experienced snowmobilers who volunteer their time to make the sport safer. While you don’t need a driver’s license to operate a snowmobile, there are restrictions for drivers under 18 years of age.
A snowmobile driver and all passengers are required to wear approved safety helmets. This applies except when operation is on private property owned by the driver or passenger. If a snowmobile is driven anywhere other than on the owner’s property, it must be registered with the DMV. Also, all snowmobiles operated on any part of a roadway or shoulder of a highway in New York State must be covered by minimum liability insurance.
Over the years, I have advocated for a number of “snowmobiler-friendly” laws and have fought for continued funding of the snowmobile trail program. In 2008, state budget officials raided the trail fund. Avid snowmobilers were quick to alert me of the transgression, and I quickly threw my support behind legislation to return the funds to snowmobile clubs across the state that use the money to make sure trails are well groomed and safe for use. The legislation also requires the commissioner of parks, recreation and historic preservation to submit a detailed report to the legislature accounting for all funds to be disbursed from the trail fund each fiscal year.
I have also sponsored a bill which would allow owners of vintage snowmobiles to register their sleds for a reduced fee. Since these special snowmobiles are used only for parades and other show events they should be exempt from the portion of the registration fee which is directed to the trail maintenance fund.
For more information concerning snowmobiling along with a complete downloadable handbook for recreational riding, visit the OPRHP website at www.nysparks.com. Another terrific resource is the New York State Snowmobile Association. You can read more about their activities online at www.nysnowmobiler.com.