By Jim Duke
As the snowmobile season officially began, the final meetings of the Snowmobile Advisory Workgroup and the Michigan Snowmobile and ORV Association finished out the year. Due to the continued coronavirus pandemic and the governor’s order restricting large gatherings, both were conducted virtually. The SAW meeting was held Dec. 3 and the MISORVA Board of Directors met on Dec. 5.
Both meetings were open to the public and could be joined either by telephone conference call or via personal computer. Both meetings were very well attended, considering the current circumstances.
For the first time in more than 15 years, the MISORVA was unable to meet in person in the Munising/Christmas area. It’s been more than a couple of decades overall that the association has not been at some location in the Upper Peninsula for the snowmobile season kick-off and first ride.
As upsetting as the ongoing hassle of mask-wearing and social-distancing requirements as set by the state health department have been, the most aggravating by far was the ever-present unusually warm temperatures and lack of rideable snow, even if members of these organizations had been able to gather in the area. In fact, just three days prior to the official start to the snowmobile season, the sun was beating down on completely bare ground with a high temperature of 40 degrees — and still no frost in the ground.
To make matters even worse, if they could actually be any worse, the restrictions placed on all restaurants and non-essential businesses had most communities throughout the state looking more like ghost towns than the usual busy winter recreational meccas. It was rare indeed to see more than a couple of vehicles at any of the lodging facilities.
This meeting would not only be my final meeting as chairman, but also my last meeting as a member of the workgroup. With introductions out of the way, the minutes of the previous meeting and the agenda approved, the first action item was the multiple ongoing issues caused by logging operations on or near the designated snowmobile trails as well as damage caused to the grooming equipment by stumps left in the trail right-of-way, an infraction of non-compliance with the contracts for the timber sales.
Forest Resources Division Chief Jeff Stampfly addressed the problems and has stated that the issue has been pushed up the ladder to the director for action, if any, and possible penalties to be applied should the stumping provision in the contracts not be performed.
It was noted that cost of repairs should not fall on the grant sponsors but should be covered by the violating contractors or at the very least the authorizing agency.
Backcountry riding opportunities, trespass and road closures were revisited with several recommendations, including the “know or don’t go” and “ride right” projects already in the works. Ultimately, it is the rider’s responsibility to ride legally and avoid the possibility of trespassing. Many snowmobile trails are permitted to pass through private property but riding off trail may be a violation of that lease and result in a loss of the trail.
Of particular interest was the report from the Equipment Subcommittee and the update on the Mattracks vs. Soucy tracks being utilized by one northern lower grant sponsor, and the update on the possibility of having a Free Snowmobile Weekend where riders may enjoy a day on the trails without the expense of purchasing a trails permit. With the staff updates by personnel of various DNR Divisions and the USFS, a review of the recommended meeting dates for 2021 were discussed. The next scheduled meeting of the SAW is Feb. 6 and the location is to be determined, as well as whether it will be virtual or an in-person gathering. However, the state trails coordinator believes the DNR’s current restriction on travel will still prevail and the meeting will again be virtual.
The final board of directors meeting was very well attended. With the agenda set and approved, standing committee reports were presented and accepted. It was noted that the membership count is increasing daily as more snowmobilers and off-road vehicle riders see the benefits of belonging to the state association. A few other reports offered for consideration included the Midwest Chapter, Friends of the Forest and some proposed fun events from the Recreation Committee, including a possible summer camp out in the St. Ignace area.
Among the several topics discussed under pending Action Items were the scheduled district meetings with the election or reelection of delegates to the board, and the possibility of hosting a ride for state legislators at some date during the next couple of months, depending on how long the current pandemic might last and whether it would be beneficial to the association.
It was also a time for the officers-elect to accept their offices and look to future meeting dates. The outgoing president announced it was his last meeting to preside over deliberations but said he would continue to be available for assistance where needed in a smooth transition of power to the incoming president and other officers. It was unclear how many meeting during 2021 may be needed to accomplish the several unfinished goals set by the previous board and whether they would be face-to-face or continue to be virtual.
The date for the first board meeting of the new year has yet to be determined but will most likely be in either late January or sometime in February. It is tentatively planned as a meeting with a snowmobile ride, conditions permitting. The exact dates and location will be announced once the schedule is finalized. The meeting was adjourned in the early afternoon with the hope that everyone will have a safe, happy and snowy holiday season.