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This year’s season a mixed-bag for local snowmobile clubs

[Submitted]

A boon for drivers, this winter hasn’t been overly bountiful for local snowmobile enthusiasts, though this week’s weather was cooperative.

For groups such as the Elmira Snowmobile Club, it’s been a relatively quiet season, especially as pandemic restrictions mean owners can’t simply trailer their sleds in search of snow. The lack of white stuff has limited trail options, especially as Grand River Conservation Authority lands are off the list, the result of a failure last summer to negotiate a new usage agreement.

The GRCA announced in September that it was unable to reach a “mutually acceptable agreement” with snowmobile groups, noting that “without the licence agreements in place, snowmobiling will not be permitted on GRCA lands during the 2020-2021 season.”

While the lack of a GRCA deal hasn’t had a big impact on the Elmira club, it does impinge on some users in the wider area, said Elmira Snowmobile Club president Ian Richards. 

“As far as crossing any GRCA lands, for Elmira we’re fairly lucky in that we don’t have too much –  we only had a few spots that we sort of specifically crossed the GRCA previously. We have rerouted around those, so it hasn’t been too impactful other than having to make additional plans with our other landowners and find other routes around,” he said, pointing to former trails that cross GRCA by the Woolwich dam and reservoir. 

The GRCA situation is a bigger issue for clubs around Conestoga Lake, part of the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs’ District 9.

“It’s heartbreaking that clubs and riders will not have access again for the 2021 snowmobile season. This is about more than just user fees and risk management programs. This is about the thousands of hours our dedicated volunteers have to spend tending to GRCA-managed properties over many years. It’s also about the many riders that will not be able to experience the winter beauty of these properties and the small local businesses that will suffer,” said Karen Buratynski, manager OFSC District 9, in a statement.

She went on to note that well over $200,000 of snowmobile permit money and club fundraising dollars “have been spent over the years to upgrade infrastructure (bridges, culverts, dams), complete brushing projects, and renovate/improve outbuildings on these GRCA-managed properties.”

Between erratic snow coverage and trail issues, snowmobilers might normally travel to other districts to take part in the sport. That’s off the table as the pandemic continues, however.

“Buying an OFSC snowmobile permit does give you access to any of the Ontario trails. Because of the pandemic this year, they are requesting that people stay within their own public health unit and ride locally. So, not be travelling and [avoid] additional risk by crossing regions and things like that,” Richards explained. 

That said, now is a good time to get an OFSC permit and hit the trails, as snowmobiling is a socially distanced activity, he added, noting the Elmira club is looking for volunteers.

“We are always looking for additional assistance, additional volunteers. It’s a core group that tends to get the trail set up and get everything signed, and all of those things. We’re always bringing in new people to help out with that, so that we don’t overload the folks that are existing [members]. We certainly do appreciate anybody who has some extra time to volunteer for positions or assist in trail building and tearing down and things like that.”

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