Snowfall down, snowmobile citations up
Just like other winter recreation groups, it’s been a tough year for snowmobilers. Sure, there’s enough snow to ride their high-powered machines in some places. But not all those places are legally open to snowmobiling.
“The shallow snowpack is probably one reason why some snowmobilers have ventured off the legal areas into wilderness areas – simply to find good, untouched snow to ride on,” said South Lake Tahoe snowmobiler Hanna Bernard. “The limited legal areas get incredibly beat up by the many snowmobilers having to share a small space and that just isn’t making for any ‘good riding.'”
The U.S. Forest Service has already issued nine citations to snowmobilers riding out of areas designated for off-highway vehicle use. It’s not necessarily an increase in violations, it’s just, this year, it’s easier for officers to catch those who ride out of bounds, said Forest Service spokeswoman Cheva Heck.
“These are areas we know we have problems,” she said. “Last year it snowed so much we didn’t know when they’d be riding.”
The low snowpack and few storms allow officers to easily follow snowmobile tracks.
Earlier this month, Forest Service officers on a night mission cited four South Lake Tahoe snowmobilers for riding in the Freel Peak/High Meadows closure area. One of the men abandoned his snowmobile and fled the scene, according to a statement released by the Forest Service. The sled was impounded.
Late in February, officers cited five men from South Lake Tahoe and the Carson Valley for riding in an area closed to motor vehicles in the Mokelumne Wilderness.
The violations can result in a fine of up to $5,000, imprisonment of up to six months, or both.
“My personal feeling is that if you’re willing to take chances and ride out of bounds then do not complain about the circumstances,” said snowmobiler Dave Rich. “The Forest Service people are just doing their jobs.”
Though some people understand what they’re doing, others just don’t realize they’re not in an area designated for snowmobiles, Bernard said.
“The lack of boundary signs increases the risk of other sledders following tracks out of bounds not knowing that they’re out of bounds,” Bernard said.
The snowmobilers cited were on tracks that passed under clearly marked “no snowmobiling” signs, according to the Forest Service releases. Bernard and the Forest Service are concerned that the disregard reflect poorly on snowmobilers as a group.
“It’s unfortunate because it affects how the community views snowmobilers, most of whom wish to ride in the Basin legally,” Heck said.
Bernard echoed the statement.
“I think it reflects poorly on the 99 percent of legal snowmobilers who don’t go out of bounds if they can help,” she said. “Again, there aren’t too many boundary signs so mistakes do are bound to happen.”
About 53 percent of the Lake Tahoe Basin is closed to snowmobiling, Heck said. Free maps of areas that are open to off-road vehicles are available at the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit office in South Lake Tahoe.