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Snowmobiling helps boost rural economies

by Tim Bigham

Snowmobiling is important to our agricultural community.  One need not consider anything beyond the time that was spent discussing its merits at the state annual meeting in December.  Weighing the farm impact of extending the big game season against losing time when snowmobile trails can be open, delegates chose to adopt policy that keeps trails open.

Snowmobiling is big business to many rural economies.  The State office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation estimates there are more than 10,500 miles of snowmobile trails in the state.  The New York State Snowmobile Association estimates the magnitude of the economic impact of riders on these trails to be $868 million dollars annually.  Snowmobilers register their sleds for $100 each year.  If they belong to a club, $55 of this goes to the club and the state receives the other $45.  These funds support trail grooming and other sport functions.

How important to agriculture is snowmobiling?  The economic boost to area restaurants, stores and gas stations can be a significant boon to the local tax base and surely keeps property taxes lower than they would be without this benefit.  How important to these trail systems is agriculture?  Considering that most trail systems outside of our state parks are comprised of predominantly agricultural properties, the answer seems evident.  Club members know the value of farms and many clubs support their local Farm Bureau with a club membership in the local chapter. 

This symbiotic relationship between farms and the sport of snowmobiling is particularly evident on several of our member’s farms.  One of those members is Greg Coon, dairy and grain farmer from Madison County.  Greg got bit by the snowmobiling bug early.  He recalls that as a youngster, “we’d get back from a family ride and I’d spend the rest of the day doing figure eights behind the barn”.  Broome County’s Judi Whittaker, also a dairy farmer, found that passion for sledding came with her wedding ring.  She realized that for husband Scott riding was really important to him.  So, she says, “it was either stay home (while he rode) or enjoy the ride with him”.  Both Greg and Judi have gotten involved with their local snowmobile communities to the point of teaching snowmobile safety to new riders and volunteering hours of service putting up trail markers, grooming trails, and other club functions.

For both Greg and Judi, the trail system is very important.  With hundreds to even a thousand sleds crossing each of their properties on a daily basis in peak season, good, well marked trails are critical.  And because local clubs have authority over a trail, opening or closing of a trail are within a club’s rights.  Since most of the trails that Greg and Judi deal with are on private property, abuse of privileges by riders can result in trail closure.  As alluded to earlier, trails aren’t opened until hunting season is over and then only when there is enough snow.

Importance of snowmobiling to a community primarily depends on location.  A perennial haven for sledders is Lewis County off the east end of Lake Ontario, an area which receives more annual snowfall than most other places in the state.  This year their Chamber of Commerce is taking a crack at quantifying snowmobiling’s impact with an official survey.  Kristen Aucter, Executive Director of the Chamber knows qualitatively that the impact is huge and is looking to substantiate those numbers.  “If they (locals) could see the benefit of how the snowmobiling money impacts their pocketbook they’d be more supportive”, she said as we talked about occasional complaints by locals about snowmobile trailers blocking traffic routes or causing them to detour. Kristen expects the survey results to be available by early summer.



Recreational use associations are formed to traverse the sprawling farmsteads that blanket New York State.  To gain access to private property, these associations reach out to farm owners to negotiate an easement across their farmland.  Many of these recreational use associations are offering to waive and release a landowner from liability in the event of an injury, or provide some form of liability insurance, in exchange for these easements.  Negotiating proper terms of such an agreement, without fully understanding what these particular contractual agreements actually mean, could lead to trouble down the road.  NYFB offers a Legal Referral Service to its members designed to provide assistance with legal questions or concerns.  If you would like a referral to an attorney to discuss snowmobile easements, call Lisa Ovitt at 1-800-342-4143