2018-01-11 / Front Page

Snowmobile club warns riders to be courteous

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer


The Saco Pathfinders Club could lose trail access if riders continue to ignore signs to slow down and stay on trail. Club members maintain more than 50 miles of trails in Saco, Biddeford, Scarborough and Dayton, all of which is on private land and maintained by club volunteers. Riding off trail can damage property as well as endanger a rider’s safety. (Courtesy photo) The Saco Pathfinders Club could lose trail access if riders continue to ignore signs to slow down and stay on trail. Club members maintain more than 50 miles of trails in Saco, Biddeford, Scarborough and Dayton, all of which is on private land and maintained by club volunteers. Riding off trail can damage property as well as endanger a rider’s safety. (Courtesy photo) SACO – The Saco Pathfinders Snowmobile Club has urged riders to stay on marked trails for fear of losing access to them altogether.

The club, based in Saco, posted a warning to its Facebook page on Dec. 31 urging people to respect signs posted on trails that indicate private land. Saco Pathfinders Snowmobile Club President Doug Doherty met with club members on Wednesday, Jan. 3 to discuss, among other things, the issue of off-trail riding.

“We maintain nearly 50 miles of trails between Saco, Scarborough, Biddeford and Dayton,” Doherty said. “Every inch is privately owned. Private landowners grant us permission. If you’re riding the way you should ride, there’s zero damage. These guys off trial might hit soft spots in hayfields or low spots that are very soggy. They’ll blast right through them and tear up whatever’s underneath.”

According to the Maine Snowmobile Association website, more than 95 percent of trails in the state are on private property. Under the state’s Landowner Liability Law, landowners do not have to ensure their property is safe for recreational activities and will not be held responsible if an accident occurs. Doherty said the trails cross farm land near Andy’s Agway in Dayton and winterized farm equipment remains in the fields. Doherty said it could be a matter of time before someone is sued.

“As far as I know it’s not happening in the state but there’s a first time for everything I guess,” Doherty said.

Andy Cole, owner of Andy’s Agway, doesn’t want to forbid riders on his land because his property is a vital connection to other area trails. However, he has concerns regarding people riding off trail on his farm.

“Our problem is people come out here too soon when there’s not enough snow,” he said. “That damages the grass and that’s our livelihood. People race back and forth and treat it like a race track. Ride through at a reasonable speed, that’s our biggest headache. We have a trail and we’d like them to stay on it.”

Doherty said snowmobiles in use today are much more powerful than in the past.

“Some machines today, they generate over 200 horsepower,” he said. “They have tracks that are seven feet long. They were designed to ride mountains out west. We don’t have any terrain conducive to what these machines were built for. People still buy them here. The machines are monsters. They can do a tremendous amount of damage and tear through 12 or 14 inches of snow like nothing to the bare ground. It’s very few people, but they do a lot of damage when they do it.”

Doherty would like to put up more signs, but said the Maine Snowmobile Association has asked the club to use fewer signs to keep trails from looking cluttered. Doherty said aside from intersections and fields, the association wants trails to look as clean as possible.

Cole said members of the Pathfinders Club have been responsive to his concerns about trouble with riders.

“The Pathfinders are very good about marking trails,” he said. “They can’t control anybody. It’s always just been a few bad apples, it always is.”

Doherty said high visibility rope was put up by Pierson Nurseries in Dayton, which has immature trees just under the cover of snow. However, riders who have ridden into ropes like that in the past have been seriously injured, Doherty said.

“We have to be very careful of putting out rope like that, we have to make it super visible,” he said. “Unfortunately they just don’t pay attention. It’s really frustrating.”

Doherty said if anyone sees riders off trail they can contact the Saco Pathfinders Club or local game warden. He said he’s considered waiting in his truck at high traffic intersections to remind people about the importance of staying on the trail if the problem persists.

“We may have to go that route,” he said. “I hate to waste a day of my life but if it’s going to save a trail, it’s worth it.”

Contact Staff Writer Grant McPherson at news@inthecourier.com

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