County passes new snowmobile ordinance

January 04, 2007 12:00 am

By MIKE FERGUSON

Snowmobile enthusiasts got a new ordinance from county commissioners Wednesday that spells out who pays for signs along the trails they ride, where the trails are and when they may be enjoyed.

At the request of Eldon Doser, they even got a change in the ordinance.

Doser, who grooms trails for the Sumpter Valley Blue Mountain Snowmobile Club, told commissioners during a public hearing Wednesday that it's no longer necessary to require that a five-foot-high mast or antenna, with an orange pennant at the top, be affixed to snowmobiles, as the original version of the new ordinance required.

"No snowmobiles have those anymore," he said. "Most of them just get ripped off the first time you roll your sled."

Since most masts are made of fiberglass, a broken mast often becomes a sharp, jagged, dangerous object, he told commissioners, who voted 2-0 to approve the ordinance without the mast requirement, so long as the device isn't required by state law.

Commissioner Carl Stiff did not attend Wednesday's meeting.

At the recommendation of county counsel Dan Van Thiel, the new ordinance removes a previous requirement that snowmobilers wear helmets. Helmets are not required under state law.

Whitey Bloom, president of the Panhandle Snowmobile Club in Halfway, said he wondered about the cost and regulation of signs along Panhandle-area trails. The new ordinance requires the county's snowmobile clubs to provide, place and maintain the signs.

"You folks are looking at the routes and those signs every day, and we get out there only periodically," Roadmaster Ken Helgerson said. "We're running around during the winter like chickens with our heads cut off trying to keep the roads clear."

As to the cost question, Helgerson said aluminum signs marking snowmobile trails are available for about $18. County shops can store the posts that hold the signs during the months the trails are not in use, he said.

In recent years, Helgerson said, the task of signing the routes has been performed by the snowmobile clubs. The new ordinance requires that practice.

"The road department doesn't have snowmobiles, so our ability to get around to all the routes is not very efficient," he said. "The clubs have done a good job" signing the routes that they groom, he said.

Safety is the county's "paramount issue," said County Commission Chair Fred Warner Jr.

"The signs don't make (the trails, which often coincide with county roads) totally safe, but they give people a little more protection along the way," he said.

Glen Ferguson, president of the Sumpter-based club, said his association has placed signs to remind snowmobilers about speed limits. The signs have worked to ensure that motorists and snowmobilers can coexist safely, he said.

The intent of the signs, he said, is to "try to get people to make sure they're under control."

Under the new ordinance, if snowmobile clubs don't want new routes added or other significant changes made for the coming snowmobile season, county commissioners can wait to enact a new ordinance until such changes are requested.

This year, a new route along Geiser Creek Road was added to the inventory of the county's approved snowmobile routes. The addition brings Baker County's total to 18 routes.

In general, the trails are available to snowmobilers from 8 a.m. through 8 p.m. Those hours may be expanded for special events with prior approval by the sheriff's department.

In other business Wednesday, commissioners:

o approved three more Measure 37 applications, voting to waive land use restrictions rather than paying the compensation requested

o appointed Timothy Moles of Sumpter to the Renewable Energy Board (formerly the county's Power Generation Task Force) and Paul Wares of the Medical Springs area to the Powder Basin Watershed Council.