Property owners threaten to revoke access to Ontario snowmobile trails

snowmobiler riding on a trail Photo by Sean Donohue Photo/Shutterstock

Ontario’s snowmobile season is in full swing and Family Day is is one of the most popular weekends for riders. The Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs says this year has been one of the most popular years on record with just over 100,000 people purchasing snowmobile permits. Yet, despite the growing interest, the OFSC is concerned that future trail use may be in jeopardy.

At the end of January, the OFSC launched its Save Our Trails campaign after landowners, who voluntarily provide parts of their property for snowmobile trail use, stated that they would restrict access due to negative interactions with riders. The federation has established a network of 30,000 kilometres of prescribed trails running across Ontario, 60 per cent of which fall on private land.

“Largely, it’s trespassing,” says Ryan Eickmeier, CEO of OFSC. “It’s leaving marked trails.” An example would be going into a farm field off of the trail or accessing the trail during times of the year when it’s not permitted.

There isn’t a concrete number on how many trails could be pulled, but with 18,000 partnered landowners, Eickmeier says it’s an issue affecting all 16 of the federation’s districts.

When access to a trail is revoked, it interrupts the OFSC permitted trail network, making it more difficult for snowmobilers to get to their desired destination. “You can only reroute in so many places,” Eickmeier says. He adds that it can also cause snowmobilers to lose access to a town they may have relied on for gas, food, or accommodations—in turn, impacting the revenue those businesses earn from snowmobilers.

To avoid this, the OFSC is asking snowmobilers to stay on the marked trails and to respect the rights and property of landowners. “I would reasonably say that some people do not understand the full significance of going off-trail,” Eickmeier says. “It may seem harmless, it may seem like something that they’re just doing and it’s not going to impact anyone. But it does.”

The OFSC has introduced an educational video about trail use that every snowmobiler must complete before being able to purchase a trail permit. Eickmeier says the federation is hoping that between the video, provincial radio PSAs, and their group of volunteer ambassadors, people will get the message.

“I think that the group that’s going to be most influential is the 100,000-plus permit buyers who literally count down the days before permits go on sale and watch weather forecasts for their first time out,” he says. “They’re the ones that are going to lose the privilege of accessing this land because a handful of people have decided that they’re above the rule of law.”

Law enforcement is patrolling trails and has been very active this year, Eickmeier adds. If a snowmobiler is found off-trail on private property, the landowner can press trespassing charges.

“We want to ensure that this incredible 30,000-kilometre network of trails that our clubs roll out each and every year is going be around for the next 50 years.”

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