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February 18, 2014 - 11:20am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Oakfield, recreation, snowmobiles, Sno-Packers.

Out on a trail in Oakfield, a first-time snowmobiler with a camera decided to stop, letting his guide continue ahead for a bit, and looked back at the path just taken and see if the area might be photogenic.

It wasn't.

When the rookie turned back to put his hands on the handlebars, his palm accidentally hit the engine's kill switch.

He had no idea how to restart this machine.

No worries really. The rider knew his guide, Jim Elmore, would turn around before long and see the rookie was no longer trailing. Elmore is past-president of Genesee County Sno-Packers Snowmobile Club and the current president of NYSSA (New York State Snowmobilers Association).

Perhaps the guide had a bit of fear that the rookie had done something horrid with Jane Chaddock's sled, like zoom it off the trail into a ditch, and he would return.

About this time, a young rider on a neon green and black snowmobile happened along the trail and offered assistance.

And that's sort of how it goes in the snowmobile community in Genesee County -- a cooperative spirit, riders helping riders.

It takes a dedicated group of volunteers to maintain the 175 miles of snowmobile trails in the county, and Sno-Packers (along with Sleds of Stafford) are the organizations that ensure the work gets done.

If not, as volunteer groomer Greg Rich said, "It would be pretty rough out here. There would probably be no snowmobilers."

The Sno-Packers own three machines for grooming the trails. Each costs more than $200,000, and the grooming drags cost another $12,000 each, plus the club spends from $25,000 to $30,000 a year on operations and maintenance.

Ten to 12 volunteers operate the groomers. A couple, such as Rich, spend more than 10 hours a day out on trails, keeping the snow smooth and packed so riding is not only possible, but safer.

The club also maintains trail signs that provide directions and GPS coordinates to riders so they don't get lost and have some idea of where they are in an emergency.

Snowmobile clubs also provide a safety and riding classes, not to mention social events.

It's a monumental effort and involves an interesting bit of cooperation between private non-profit groups and state agencies.

In fact, Elmore noted that while citizens often complain about state government, snowmobile groups, and certainly Sno-Packers often find government agencies to be cooperative allies.

As an example, Emore pointed to a trail that connects Alexander and Bethany. It's an old railroad bed owned by the Department of Environmental Conservation. After years of wondering why it wasn't a snowmobile trail, the Sno-Packers reached out to the DEC and inquired about turning it into a trail. The DEC's response? "We thought you'd never ask."

Much of the funding for trail maintenance comes from license fees for snowmobiles collected by the state (unlicensed snowmobiles, and there are some, then, are the bane of good trail maintenance). 

The state pays Genesee Sno-Packers to maintain 150 miles of trail. The club pays for the extra 25 miles out of its own dues.

A ride on one of these trails reveals a side of Genesee County that you're never going to see from a state highway or county road. The vistas and views are completely different and reveal even greater variety of our area's beauty.

In fact, if your concept of snowmobiles is that of a bunch of speed demons racing around the countryside, that's hardly the truth at all. Snowmobilers are photography buffs (Chaddock, for example, always packs a camera and is known among club members for her eye-catching photography), birders and nature lovers.

On the trail, you come across a variety of wildlife and that's part of the fun of the ride.

May 22, 2010 - 8:44pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in batavia, photos, snowmobiles.


The Don Cummings Memorial Antique and Vintage Snowmobile Show was at the Batavia fairgrounds  this year because it's outgrown its former location in Alexander. Proceeds benefited Mercy Flight.

More photos after the jump:

January 27, 2010 - 7:39pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in budget, steve hawley, state, snowmobiles.

The governor is out of line, according to Assemblyman Steve Hawley, in planning to shift $1 million from New York's snowmobile program to the state's general fund.

Hawley today issued a statement asking Gov. David Paterson to strike that provision from his proposed 2010-2011 executive budget.

“This proposal to take $1 million away from the Snowmobile Fund is unacceptable and serves as just another example of the State trying to take every penny it can to cover its own fiscal mismanagement,” said Hawley. “This fund is entirely financed and supported by the fees New Yorkers pay to register their snowmobiles. For this reason, the fund should be used solely to maintain and develop snowmobile trails throughout the state.”

Full press release after the jump:

January 7, 2010 - 6:38pm
posted by Billie Owens in Announcements, snowmobiles.

With the recent snowfall throughout Western New York, the 2010 snowmobile season is off to a great start. This is a popular recreation throughout Western New York and law enforcement agencies want snowmobile operators to have a fun and safe season.

The New York State Park Police and State Police are working with the local Sheriff’s Offices, Forest Rangers, Department of Environmental Conservation and snowmobile clubs to promote safe driving on the trails throughout Western New York. 

During the 2008-2009 snowmobile season, there were more than 21,000 registered snowmobiles in the Western New York area. There were also a total of 55 snowmobile accidents in WNY, 47 resulted in injuries and three were fatal. According to the New York State Office of Parks and Recreation, there were 323 snowmobile accidents statewide, unsafe speed was the primary cause of 86 percent of the accidents and alcohol was identified as a factor in half of last year’s fatal accidents.

Today, New York State Park Police Major David Page made this announcement:

“The State Park Police and the State Office of Parks are committed to actions that result in a safe and enjoyable snowmobiling experience for snowmobilers, the landowners who host the snowmobile-trail system and motorists who encounter snowmobiles at road crossings and trailheads. Through enforcement actions, education and coordinated planning with other law enforcement agencies and the snowmobile community, we will make every effort to help keep snowmobiling a safe recreational activity. We will continue to prioritize the enforcement of snowmobile speed limits, and operating-while-intoxicated laws, both of which continue to be the primary factors in fatal snowmobile accidents.

"Through a joint effort, law enforcement agencies and snowmobile clubs, hope to provide safe and enjoyable trails for snowmobile enthusiasts. This will be done through education, such as safety courses and reaching out to the community and strict enforcement. Snowmobilers will see law enforcement officers on the trails, providing assistance and enforcing laws. New York State Police Major Christopher L. Cummings, Troop “A” Commander stated, 'Law enforcement agencies throughout Western New York will be committed to ensuring the safety of snowmobilers utilizing the trails this season.  We will be coordinated and unified in our enforcement actions to identify persons who choose to operate a snowmobile in violation of the law.'”

The law enforcement agencies throughout Western New York would like to wish everyone a safe and enjoyable snowmobile season and also caution snowmobilers to obey the laws for everyone’s safety.


•    Do not operate a snowmobile under the influence of alcohol or drugs
•    Follow speed limit signs, the mandatory speed limit is 55 mph unless posted otherwise
•    Always wear a helmet and appropriate clothing
•    Snowmobiles must be properly registered and insured
•    Advise family or friends where you will be sledding and when you plan on returning
•    Have a survival pack or emergency supplies on hand
•    Consider taking a snowmobile safety course
•    Check the weather conditions

October 22, 2009 - 11:28am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Alabama, Sour Springs Road, snowmobiles.


The Sno-Packers Snowmobile Club thought they had all the approval they needed to build a recreational bridge over a creek in Alabama.

County officials disagree. County Manager Jay Gsell said this morning the bridge violates state law and the only option for the county is to remove it.

Department of Highway workers are tearing down the bridge today.

The bridge, which club members say took 400 man hours to build and is worth at least $40,000, spans a creek off Sour Springs Road, which is a dirt road off Roberts Road.

The club installed the bridge -- which club members largely pre-built in a garage prior to installation -- about a month ago. It's already been heavily used, according to club secretary Jane Chaddock, by fishermen, birdwatchers and hikers.

"It's nothing but a fiasco for something that was so beautiful and so much work," Chaddock said.

Doug Hagen, Genesee County snowmobile coordinator, said the club felt it had approval for construction of the bridge -- from County Highway Superintendent Tim Hens signing off on plans, to the County Legislature's Public Services Committee saying it should be built, to officials from the Town of Alabama saying they didn't oppose the construction.

Gsell said there was never any official permission given from the county and since the bridge is on the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, there needs to be more than tacit approval from the federal government for snowmobilers to ride right through the preserve.

But the main issue from a county perspective, Gsell said, is that any bridge over 5-feet long becomes county responsibility.

The county would be liable for any injuries resulting from use of the bridge should there be a problem.

And although club officials, according to Hagen, believe the bridge exceeds engineering standards for its intended use, Gsell said that's not necessarily true.

"Because the snowmobile club has actually admitted that they're going to use that bridge to put their snowmobiles on to cross that body of water, that bridge must meet state and federal guidelines as far as structural integrity, the distances, the accessibility...and that's not presently the case," Gsell said.

"The highway superintendent then, under state highway law, has to deal with the issue in terms of either removing it, which right now is our only logical option, or at some point involving some major capital project - we're talking about a couple of million dollars of replacing a bridge structure, because anything over 5 feet is the responsibility of county government. But, that doesn't mean we have to take ownership of something that people put there illegally and without anybody's permission."

According to Hagen, Sheriff's deputies are on scene at the bridge tear-down ensuring club members don't get out of hand.

Hagen said all of the material and labor to build the bridge was donated, but if he had to guess at the cost of material and construction, he would put it at $40,000.

"That bridge was built at absolutely no taxpayer expense," Hagen noted, "and now taxpayers are paying for that bridge to be ripped out."

Chaddock fought back tears while we spoke. She said people who have seen the bridge love it.

"People say it's the best bridge they've ever seen," Chaddock said. "People have said  they wanted to get married on that bridge."

UPDATE 11:43 a.m.: The bridge is gone. It was, however, removed in one piece and will be put in storage, Tim Hens said. He just returned to his office from the site, he said.

"Unfortunately, when the club put the bridge in without permission, it kind of forced our hand," Hens said. "I don't think anybody from the county wanted to remove that bridge, but it's what we had to do to protect county taxpayers from liability."

Hens said the county -- which has helped the snowmobile club raise $500,000 in grants from state and federal agencies over the past several years -- was trying to find a way to either get a bridge in place, or allow a bridge to be built, but had not been able to complete that process before the bridge went up.

UPDATE 3:30 p.m. (Billie Owens): The bridge came down easily and quickly this morning, according to the workers who remained at the scene afterward.

"It was a solid, well-built bridge, made of steel and wood," said county employee Aaron Zinkovich.

Another worker added that County Highway Superintendent Hens got verbally thrashed by snowmobile enthusiasts at the scene.

"They beat up on him pretty good - called him every name in the book," he said.

The snowmobilers wasted no time getting lawyered up. They've retained Roland R. Georger, of Damon Morey Attorneys at Law in Clarence, to advise them on the matter.

"I have a lot of investigating to do," Georger said, adding that will include looking at the permitting process.

Agenda minutes of the Byron-based Genesee County Snowmobile Association from Sept. 8 -- under the Old Business section -- reported that the county attorney "has told Co. Highway and Town of Alabama that the county cannot support the bridge concept because of liability. We all need to lobby Hawley and our county legislators for adopting a county law." Hagen attented the meeting along with other snowmobile group representatives.

The Sour Springs Bridge was built in the ensuing weeks.

UPDATE: Photo above by Billie Owens

UPDATE: Picture below submitted anonymously with no comment.  It looks like this would be the old bridge that was destroyed by an alleged drunken driver.


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