timber,MISORVA,trail conditions

When All Else Fails – What Then?

By Jim Duke

There is unsubstantiated evidence throughout the snowmobiling community that more than one category of winter enthusiast exists, and, in many cases, a particular sport dominates in some geographic areas of the United States and Canada. For example, ice hockey is the most popular winter sport throughout the Canadian provinces as well as in several locales across the northern tiers of the USA. Another very popular winter recreational activity is skiing, whether it is downhill, cross-country, snowboarding or some variation. The common thread that binds them all is snow!

But the majority of us are interested in that motorized winter recreation known as snowmobiling! There may be occasion, however, when one or more of the activities listed in the first paragraph have merit for mention. In some cases, both motorized and non-motorized user groups experience some of the same safety concerns, hazards and dangerous conditions that winter may throw at us or that some other source has caused in one way or another.

As we enter the winter months in Michigan, grant sponsors to the snowmobile program attended the various pre-season meetings scheduled by program administrators. They gave updates regarding any changes in necessary paperwork and the proper procedures for completing forms required for any fund reimbursements to cover the cost of grooming duties, once the official season begins. I should mention that this event was completed just prior to the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Almost all such activities have been suspended, postponed or completely canceled until further notice by the governor’s executive orders in efforts to stop, or at least slow, the spread of COVID-19.

timber,MISORVA,trail conditions
Not only the excessive debris left on the trail surface but stumps near the edge of the trail are extremely hazardous and pose a dangerous threat once covered with snow. Expense of both dollars and labor to clean up the area should be charged to the logging contractor that left it in such poor condition, not the snowmobile program.

For many years now, the Michigan Snowmobile Association (recently renamed MISORVA to include some categories of ATV & UTV users) has sponsored and hosted a Groomer Workshop during the season. Grant sponsors and groomer operators can participate in roundtable discussions and breakout sessions designed to make the process easier for everything, from understanding the weekly reporting procedures to best grooming practices.

Although the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has a major role to play in all this, so does the Snowmobile Advisory Workgroup, which worked to bring about the improvements on our trail system today. Without the several vendors and manufacturers’ reps who devote the entire weekend to this event, grant sponsors would not have the opportunity to see and test the newest innovations in grooming equipment.

Some possible dangerous conditions and safety hazards come with each season — some prior to start up and some encountered daily when groomers go out. Many could be avoided if those responsible would just follow the requirements set forth in their contracts. I’m speaking primarily of loggers, who had successful bids and received contracts from the DNR Forestry Division or the National Forest Service to extract timber during the winter months and, in many cases, use the designated trails to get to their specific work sites.

Not only does this destroy the grooming surface of the trail due to rutting by heavy equipment, but the common practice of leaving excessive debris, scrap logs and even stumps in or near the trail — which become covered by snow — may cause severe damage to grooming equipment. Even worse, if the groomers get past without incident, the hidden stumps, debris and ruts from the logging crews are a serious threat to unsuspecting snowmobilers.

timber,MISORVA,trail conditions
Ruts in the trail caused by heavy equipment is not the only hazards left by logging operations. Bark, broken tree limbs and trimmings also create dangerous conditions for unsuspecting trail users.

This burden should not fall completely on the loggers, however, because history shows every contract issued has a clause that states the bearer must return the trail surface and immediate area to the same condition it was prior to the work beginning — minus the timber, of course. It is as much the fault of state or federal personnel responsible to inspect the area before and after completion of the operation and cite the contractors for failure to follow through with their obligations, if any should apply.

Understand that there is plenty of blame to go around, and the common denominator is most likely lack of communication! The DNR personnel who approve the timber sale could fail to relay pertinent information to those who write the contracts, who, in turn, could fail to inform the personnel in the field what is expected of them. For the contractors, the boss or his/her designee that reviews, accepts and signs the contract might fail to notify the foreman of specifics within the contract; but if the foreman does have that knowledge, he might fail to let the crew doing the actual cutting know what is expected of them once the timber is down and the logs transported from the job site.

There have been many instances, from minor infractions to gross negligence, not only to the trail surfaces but to the narrow buffers on either side that require serious repairs to put the trail back in a safe condition for use. In extreme cases, damage has been so severe that culverts have collapsed and required replacement, and the trail surface so deteriorated that it was necessary for tons of gravel and road fill to be delivered to make repairs. Most contracts have boilerplate language that states all stumps within 20 feet of the trail edge must be removed. Rarely, if ever, is this accomplished and the contractors usually opt for paying the penalty rather than spending the additional time to remove stumps or even do a basic cleanup once the work has been completed. I think it all boils down to that old seed of greed: “Time is Money!”

The organized snowmobiling community is not suggesting suspension of timber sales during the winter months, nor are they recommending restrictions on when and where logging operations may take place. What is needed is to hold the contractors accountable to comply with the terms of their contract. Snowmobilers, like all other trail users, are bound by rules and regulations that pertain to safe and responsible use of the trails. Shouldn’t any other users of the trails be held to the same standards? The question here is when all else fails … what then?

Scroll to Top