"Please reopen the trails" plead snowmobilers

Snowmobilers in Prescott-Russell want to get back on the Larose Forest trails before winter is over.

“I’m asking you, in the name of all the businesses and snowmobilers, to reopen the trails as soon as possible,” said Mario Meloche, a snowmobiler and owner/operator of Rockland Marine, during the January 29 session of the United Counties of Prescott and Russell council (UCPR).

Meloche spoke for a delegation of half a dozen snowmobilers, who met with council concerning the recent closure of the snowmobile trails that the UCPR maintain in the Larose Forest area. Snowmobilers are also barred from the Prescott-Russell Recreational Trail, which the UCPR also maintains.

Meloche said the closure of the trails means a serious financial loss for the region’s winter tourism economy. He noted that snowmobile tourism amounts to about $10 million each year for Prescott-Russell businesses providing food, beverage, gasoline, parts replacement, and repairs.

The trail closures are a result of a dispute between the UCPR and the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs (OFSC) over insurance liability coverage for snowmobilers on public access trails, which the UCPR maintains. Similar disputes are going on throughout Ontario between the OFSC and municipal governments, which maintain public access trails for snowmobiling.

UCPR officials state that the OFSC wanted a change in the liability coverage details for the Certificate of Insurance, required each year to allow OFSC members to use the public trails in the region during the period from December to April. The alleged change the OFSC wanted would increase the UCPR’s liability in case of an accident.

“We will not change our position,” said Stéphane Parisien, UCPR chief administrative officer, following a closed-doors discussion session for UCPR council on the trail closure issue. “This (proposed) agreement would mean the counties are being exposed to (greater) liability.”

UCPR council is willing to reopen the trails if the OFSC will accept the original wording for the Certificate of Insurance dealing with liability coverage. The OFSC, on its website, has stated that it never proposed any changes dealing with insurance coverage in its dealings with local governments.

Parisien, UCPR Planning and Forestry Director Louis Prévost, and East Hawkesbury Mayor Robert Kirby met with the delegation, outside of council chambers, for an informal talk during a break in the regular meeting. Parisien and Prévost explained again about the UCPR’s concern over the risk of increased liability, because of the change the OFSC wanted for the Certificate of Insurance.

“That’s not what we were told at our club meeting,” said one delegation member.

The delegation asked if it could have a copy of the proposed insurance coverage document the UCPR received from the OFSC, for comparison with previous Certificates of Insurance that the UCPR issued in past years. Prévost stated that it would be possible.

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