Snowmobile trails open again in Prescott-Russell

Snowmobilers had reason to celebrate with fresh snow and the reopening of the snowmobile trails in Larose Forest.

The United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR), the City of Ottawa, and the Eastern Ontario Snowmobile Club (EOSC) reached a compromise agreement February 7, which allows local and visiting snowmobilers access to the trails in the Larose Forest and those that the city maintains in its rural areas.

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“Both sides put ‘a little water in their wine’,” said Stéphane Parisien, UCPR chief administrator, during a phone interview February 10, noting that both the local governments and the snowmobile club accepted “a little give and take” during their discussions to reach an agreement.

Snowmobilers were denied access for the past couple of weeks to the trails in the Larose Forest and along rural municipal lands in Ottawa, because of a dispute between the municipal governments and the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs (OFSC) over insurance liability coverage for snowmobilers on public access trails. OFSC member clubs arrange for a Certificate of Insurance each year with local governments and, in some cases, with private companies for trail-riding privileges.

Both the UCPR and the City of Ottawa refused to grant the Certificate of Insurance this season, because of an alleged change that the OFSC wanted in the liability coverage details. The change would increase the liability of the UCPR and the city in case of an accident.

The compromise agreement worked out between the three parties, last Friday, allowed snowmobilers “immediate access” to all the closed trails again, over the February 8 weekend. That also includes reopening the Prescott-Russell Recreational Trail for use by snowmobiles. UCPR officials stated that conditions of the compromise agreement provide sufficient liability coverage to protect the counties’ interest.

“We didn’t get 100 per cent of what we wanted on indemnification,” stated Louis Prévost, UCPR planning and forestry director. “But we are satisfied with our risk assessment.”

Prévost represented the UCPR during the February 7 meeting. He declined to discuss specific details of the agreement, adding that he did not want to make a mistake on any legal points. But he said the deal will allow snowmobilers, and local businesses which depend on snowmobile tourism for part of their winter revenue, to enjoy the rest of the season.

During the February 7 meeting, officials for the UCPR, City of Ottawa, and the OFSC agreed to form a committee in the spring, following the official end of snowmobiling season, to work on issues dealing with trail user liability and insurance coverage.

“So we can iron out a long-term agreement,” said Prévost, “and avoid situations like this in the future.”

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