Sunday, January 23, 2011

Idaho bans snow bikes from groomed snowmobile trails – Part 1

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...


Ed said...

Ignorance is bliss. Good luck with the "permission" thing, hopefully it won't become a can of worms.


Joboo said...

Wow, that blows!! Best of luck with this situation that seems to be popping up more and more across the country.

Vito said...

Now that is very unfortunate. I have other words, but I'll keep it civilized.

Here in MN we also have hundreds of miles of snowmobile trails to ride. I won't ride on many of them because I just don't trust the snowmobile drivers. Some of the trails are narrow with poor site lines and I don't want to surprise someone flying through the woods on their sled. Especially after they have already stopped at several local establishments and have had a few.

My encounters when I have ridden the trails have all been very positive, but there is a certain state of mind that prevails within some snowmobile operators. So, I enjoy riding the forest roads.

I have a tendency to avoid encounters when I can. I've just never been a fan of motorized vehicles in the woods. However, they sure do have nice trails. Your buying permits has been a great gesture and I would do the same if I used them more often.

I wish you and other snowbikers well and hope you get the permission you desire with the support of the snowmobile community.

Jed Ullrich said...

It seems like if you register as a snow machine you're fine. Or just be all gangster and ride that shit anyway.

Anonymous said...

Agree w/ Vito, but find dog mushing trails, they are way better riding than snow machine trails. Ask local mushing groups, they seem to be on a better wavelength.

Grizzly Adam said...

Good grief.

Why are bikes (and cyclists) treated like the convict uncle of the recreational family?

Do you have a friendly inside the FS offices? If so, I'd start peppering them with letteres, phone calls, and requests for a joint meeting with the county commissioners/powers that be.

Unless there is an irrational anti-bike sentiment among the snowmachine crowd that raises opposition to your presence, I'd be wiling to bet that the CC will look at the language, asses your argument and simply say "of course bikes are allowed!"

One would hope anyway.

And what of snowshoes and skis?

Are we really gravitating to a motorized only national forest?

Anonymous said...

Here in Northern Idaho, we have been fighting this subject for years, and finally gave up. Just for your information, there actually is a statute saying you have to register as a snowmobile. There is also another statute saying that you can not register a vehicle as something that it is not. Conversation with the County District Atty a couple of years ago, indicated that these two conflict. Sure is strange how they can enforce one and not the other. As for the Commissioners, good luck with that, been there..done that, still riding on dirt. By the way we are an ATV club, but good luck, hope you make it. R.L.

Vito said...

I think it's a sad statement of where our wilderness policies are going.

Jennoit said...

Oh man - that stinks. I am picking up my very first snow bike tomorrow (!) and I am grateful for the trails and overall good trail-sharing we've got going on up here in the Yukon. Good luck with getting the permission.

Anonymous said...

I checked with our local man in charge up north (Andy Boggs)to see if bikes were allowed on groomed trails and he e-mailed me and said, "Yes, at this time only motorized vehicles are regulated"