Peggy Spieger, Executive Director,
Oregon State Snowmobile Association
December 22, 2015
Volunteers from the Oregon State Snowmobile Association (OSSA) and local snowmobile clubs have worked with the U.S. Forest Service for more than 40 years providing winter trail maintenance and grooming. These volunteers work more than 30,000 hours annually to provide winter trails that are safe and enjoyable for thousands of winter recreationists that includes not only snowmobilers but also cross-country skiers, snowshoers and dog sleds. During other seasons of the year these same trails are heavily used by bicyclists, off-road vehicle riders and hikers.
All trail maintenance and grooming activities provided by OSSA and member clubs are conducted through a valid permit signed by local Forest Service officials. All of these volunteer efforts are intended solely to help address potential hazards to winter recreationists that can hide dangers that, if not addressed, could potentially cause injury or death to unsuspecting trail users.
A news story entitled "Snowmobilers’ Trail Improvements Turn into Path of Destruction,” was published by Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) on its website Dec. 16, 2015 and was then also picked up by other news outlets. It is unfortunate that this OPB article, audio interview, and images were not completely factual. It was about an event that occurred clear back in the spring of 2014 and has long since been addressed by the involved parties.
Unfortunately there was some miscommunication between Forest Service officials and club volunteers. OPB reports of intentional destruction were inaccurate and overstated. Some of the purported misdeeds attributed to our volunteers were actually the result of natural forces. Mistakes were made by both parties, so OSSA subsequently worked with Forest Service representatives to identify needed trail repairs at the end of 2014. Critical restoration costs were estimated to be around $70,000, which OSSA and the Forest Service agreed were a shared responsibility given that the inadvertent resource damage was the result of good intentions. Consequently OSSA contributed $35,000 to trail repairs and critical restoration. Those repairs began this past summer and are on-going. Additional rehabilitation will likely be needed over time in the affected trail areas and we will continue to work with the Forest Service to provide proper trail and resource management.
Snowmobilers care deeply about the trails in their area, strive to be good stewards of the land, and work hard to advance public safety and enjoyment on public lands. Our volunteers are experienced trail workers who moved only what they believed would be dangerous to the public or prevent safe trail grooming in the winter. Lessons have been learned by all involved parties and we will work closer together in a stronger partnership going forward.
The real story, which unfortunately OPB only briefly touched on, is the lack of investment in the trails and recreation. There is a pressing need for more trail maintenance funding for all national forests This is critical to public safety and the tourists who contribute to Oregon’s economy, so we hope the attention brought upon our unfortunate incident helps to better focus attention on making Oregon’s National Forests a wonderful and safe place to recreate.
ABOUT THE OREGON SNOWMOBILE ASSOCIATION: The Oregon State Snowmobile Association (OSSA) is an organization of individuals, snowmobile clubs, and businesses working together to preserve, protect, and enhance the sport of snowmobiling. OSSA was formed in 1972 to find a way to provide a groomed trail system for snowmobilers and other recreational users. Today there are 28 snowmobile clubs in Oregon, of which 25 are grooming clubs.
There are approximately 14,000 registered snowmobile owners in Oregon that enjoy using 6,410 miles of designated snowmobile trails. OSSA administers the trail grooming program throughout the state by purchasing equipment and providing guidance and oversight to the associated snowmobile clubs.
OSSA promotes safe, responsible snowmobiling and proper recreational land use. A major activity that ensures safety is trail clearing when snow is not present. Most of this work is done by hand. OSSA uses heavy equipment for this process when these objects are large and difficult to handle. Only experienced operators handle this equipment and other equipment under the supervision and permit with the U.S. Forest Service. OSSA and the U.S. Forest Service have held this cooperative agreement for many years.
When snow is not present there is maintenance to be done. While small branches and rocks may not pose a danger, large ones do and equipment is often needed to clear these trails. During the winter, snow trails are groomed with expensive specialized equipment to keep them relatively flat and free of debris that falls in the winter months. Part of the reason the maintenance is done when snow isn’t present is to ensure snow grooming machines don’t get damaged by objects under the snow. We work to assure safe riding on the trails.
Oregon's snowmobile program is recognized throughout North America as a model of volunteer accomplishment. Overall volunteers groom an average of 32,500 miles per year, and donate 30,000 additional hours of volunteer labor in trail clearing, trail maintenance, trail signing, snow shelter wood stocking and building and maintaining of equipment shelters.
No general fund money is used in these programs. The funds OSSA receives are snowmobile gas tax dollars dedicated to the snowmobile program and allocated to OSSA though the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT).
For more information: www.oregonsnow.org or OSSA Executive Director: Peggy Spieger, Oregon State Snowmobile Association, or firstname.lastname@example.org