It’s time for truly non motorized trails

The City of Whitehorse's old snowmobile bylaw was rewritten and passed by mayor and council in 2012, as was the atv bylaw. 

The City of Whitehorse’s old snowmobile bylaw was rewritten and passed by mayor and council in 2012, as was the atv bylaw. Both bylaws were updated again in February 2015, after the Yukon government changed the Motor Vehicles Act sections concerning ATV and snowmobile operation.

Within the City of Whitehorse boundaries, “Snowmobile operators must be at least 16 years old, and have a Safe Snowmobiler Card, valid driver’s license, insurance, certificate of registration (i.e. attached license plate) and [wear] an approved helmet.”

The snowmobile bylaw prohibits snowmobiles from the Millennium Trail, Ski Trails, and Environmentally Sensitive Areas. It defines snowmobiles as “motor vehicles.”

Active Trails Whitehorse Association is concerned that although ATV operators must stay on motorized trails and away from open spaces and greenbelts, snowmobile operators are not prohibited from these areas.

As a result, within the City of Whitehorse, most trails designated as non-motorized are “not” truly non-motorized.

Consequently, snowmobilers are not always sure where they are allowed, and many other users are under the mistaken belief that non-motorized trails are free from motorized use even in winter. This creates conflict.

This inconsistency between the ATV and snowmobile bylaws, and the resulting confusion for all trail users, is a compelling reason for mayor and council to re-open the snowmobile bylaw to correct this problem.

The inconsistency developed partly because some believe that due to snow cover, snowmobiles have less impact on the landscape than ATVs. Research indicates significant snowmobile impacts. Even the snowmobile bylaw recognizes that snowmobiles can damage vegetation, so it prohibits operators from “[damaging] any vegetation or ground.”

Snow depth varies each year, and changes throughout the winter. Factors such as degree of slope, aspect, height of land, temperature variation, and vegetation cover all affect snow depth. Therefore, snow depth is never the same in all areas of the city. Vegetation located above the snow snaps easily in the cold.

If snowmobilers were required to stay on designated motorized trails and out of open spaces and greenbelts (as are ATVs), then damage would be reduced, particularly to narrow single-track trails. It would also reduce user conflict and improve safety.

There is no question that there is a place for motorized “out-and-away” trails as defined in the City’s Official Community Plan. Active Trails Whitehorse simply asks that motorized users stay on “motorized” trails, something both the City and the local snowmobile association also request of operators. It’s time to add some weight to this request.

Amending the snowmobile bylaw (by adding non-motorized trails, greenbelts and open spaces to its list of prohibited areas) would go a long way to ensuring the protection of our local environment and the enjoyment of those who prefer to use “non-motorized” trails. Making it consistent with the ATV bylaw would reduce the confusion concerning trail use that is experienced by both non-motorized and motorized users and enhance clarity, which would improve the relationship between trail users.

Keith Lay

Active Trails Whitehorse Association

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