Snowmobilers, trail wardens collide

As snowmobilers take to the trails this winter, many are doing so with the misconception they do not need a trail permit.
But Rick Socholotuk, trail co-ordinator for the Sunset Country Snowmobile Club here, said many people have been misinformed about not having to buy a permit to ride trails.
Under the Ministry of Natural Resource’s Public Lands Act, most permits for trails include the provision that the following users shall have free and uninterrupted use of the trails–licensed trappers, prospectors, timber operators, MNR staff on duty, service people on duty, recreation camp members and cottage owners, and their guests, who require use of portions of the trails to access their respective camps and cottages, and anglers using a trail to access a lake.
“By law, recreational trail riders using pathways maintained by the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs must possess an O.F.S.C. trail permit,” said Gord Gallant, a land use specialist for the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters.
“However, snowmobilers using O.F.S.C. trails to gain direct access to camps and cottages, as well as hunting, trapping, and fishing locations, are usually exempt from the trail sticker,” he noted.
There are no such trails in the Fort Frances area. In fact, all trails–at one point or another–cross private or municipal land.
Socholotuk noted the only place where sledders can ride without a permit locally is on a frozen lake. He admitted they have never charged anyone with trespassing but noted they legally can do so–as well as request that person purchase one on the spot for $180 (cost for a trail permit is $120 before Dec. 1 and $150 after that).
Socholotuk said they basically are targeting people who use the trails on a regular basis but refuse to pay for a permit.
In fact, a battle between snowmobilers who choose to ride trails without permits and wardens who patrol those trails is revving up in the district.
“We don’t have a problem with people using short sections of the trails,” said Socholotuk, also an OFAH member. “What we’re finding is the cottage owner 15 miles from town is using them.
“We would have no problem if they were two miles from town and using it two or three times a year but this is a user-pay system, and if they’re using it every weekend, it’s a problem.
“If we check three times and get the same person that constitutes a full-time user,” he charged.
Gallant noted fees generated from trail permits pay for the seasonal maintenance of O.F.S.C. trails–the largest snowmobile trail system in Ontario.
“Although anglers, hunters, and trappers could be exempt from possession of trail permits, many choose to contribute because they want to help ensure regular maintenance of forest trails and increased police enforcement in the outdoors,” he added.
Still, Socholotuk maintains everyone who is using the trails should pay.
“There are 3,000-4,000 machines registered in and around Fort Frances, and if 285 or 300 users buy permits, then they are paying for the rest of the riders who are riding and damaging the trails,” he argued.
“If you use it, then you should do your share to help maintain it,” he stressed.
But many people have encountered some problems on the trails due to the many misconceptions out there.
“It’s not [just affecting] the anglers and hunters, it’s everybody,” Henry Miller said about the problem last week.
“I’ve heard lots of complaints. I know of several trails where they have [abused authority] and they do it aggressively,” he remarked.