Imagine how you would feel if your favorite piece of singletrack was suddenly closed to mountain bikes but remained open exclusively to motorized use. Would you be pissed?
Our Caribou-Targhee National Forest District Ranger, Jay Pence, knows that I am a snow biker and forwarded an email to me on Thursday that made my stomach hurt and my ears turn red with anger. The email was from Troy Elmore who works for the State of Idaho as the Off Hwy Vehicle Program Manager. In the email, Troy explained to Jay that although the Forest Service Winter Travel Plan would allow snow bikes on the groomed snowmobile trails in the winter, the state statute listed below makes it illegal:
The following Idaho State Statute was passed in July, 2009 as part of Senate Bill 1061.
Idaho Statute 67-7112 - Groomed snowmobile trails. Any all-terrain vehicle operating on groomed snowmobile trails during the winter snowmobiling season when the trails are groomed shall be registered as a snowmobile under the provisions of section 67-7103, Idaho Code. Counties shall have the option to allow all-terrain vehicles, if registered, to use snowmobile trails in the county. No other vehicles shall operate on groomed snowmobile trails unless specifically allowed by the county. Violation of the provisions of this section shall be an infraction.
Why am I just finding out about this now? Good question. For the past four years that I have owned a snow bike, I have made it a point to read the Winter Travel Plans in the National Forests that I recreate in. After all, the trails I snow bike on are located in the National Forest. It makes sense to check the FS regulations right? In their Winter Travel Plan, the US Forest Service correctly differentiates between “motorized wheeled vehicles” and simply “vehicles”. According to the Forest Service rangers I have spoken to, snow bikes were an acceptable use.
Caribou-Targhee National Forest Winter Travel Plan Matrix
I will admit that I don’t go out of my way to read through the Idaho Statutes so I wouldn’t have found this on my own. There are no signs posted at any of the winter trailheads indicating that snow bikes are illegal. In addition, every interaction I have had with snowmobile riders while snow biking on groomed snowmobile trails has been positive.
So what is the big deal? The driving force behind my first snow bike purchase four years ago was being able to ride the network of groomed trails in the Big Hole Mountains during the winter. The state of Idaho has more miles of groomed snowmobile trails than any other western state and the majority of these trails are located in the National Forest. The trail grooming program is run by the state and funded by the purchase of an annual snowmobile sticker that cost $33 in 2010. Many of us, the local snow bikers, have been buying the Idaho snowmobile sticker for the past few years as gesture of good faith.
So where does that leave us? The line in Statute 67-7112 that reads “No other vehicles shall operate on groomed snowmobile trails unless specifically allowed by the county” gives us a glimmer of hope. County Commissioners can still do the right thing and create ordinances that specifically allow snow bikes on groomed snowmobile trails. But will they?
More to follow in Part II...