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Some overzealous patrols have had an effect on the local economy

Snowmobilers say they're being harassed by law enforcement

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A coalition of leaders from the North Country's snowmobile tourism industry is complaining that law enforcement officials are harassing sledders.

They say sticker inspections and multiple trail stops are discouraging visitors from visiting the area.

But as Brian Mann reports, these concerns come as law enforcement agencies are grappling with a growing number of snowmobile injuries and deaths.

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Reported by

Brian Mann
Adirondack Bureau Chief

St. Lawrence County legislator Tony Arquiett from Helena says he’s been hearing complaints from dozens of snowmobile riders all winter.

"Some overzealous patrols have had an effect on the local economy," he said.

Arquiett, who sits on the county’s Recreational Trail Advisory Board, has called for a meeting between snowmobile clubs and law enforcement – including State Parks, Environmental Conservation, and the County Sheriff’s Office – to ease the tension.

Dominic Jackangelo, head of New York’s state snowmobile association, says he’s hearing similar concerns from across the North Country.

"This year we put out some questions through our network and one of the things we got back, surprisingly, was a complaint from many snowmobilers that, how many times should they be stopped on a trail in one evening?"

Jackangelo says law enforcement is needed on the trail.  But he said he felt that efforts to stop drunk riders were too intrusive.

"This is a recreational pursuit and you want to go out and you want to enjoy your ride.  I will tell you personally it’s uncomfortable for me to be out on a ride and me to be be stopped by an officer and there are certain routines that they go through and they are more intrusive than what you find in your own automobile."

Stephen Litwhiler, with the Department of Environmental Conservation, says law enforcement agencies meet every year to talk about snowmobile enforcement strategies.

This year, he says, they aren’t doing sobriety checkpoints, but they have been using trail crossings to check for proper registration stickers.

"When they come up to a road crossing, for example, or a trail intersection, it is mandatory for them to stop.  At those points, where people are stopped it is a very easy visual observation." 

It’s been a deadly season for snowmobile riders in the North Country.  At least half a dozen riders have been killed this winter, including a sixteen year old boy who veered off the trail last month in Lewis County.

Litwhiler says law enforcement efforts are aimed at keeping those accidents to a minimum.

"We are writing valid tickets and there are many times when we will also get compliments on how safe conditions are out on the trail because of enforcement.  There’ve been comments about some of the unfortunate fatal accidents in other parts of the North Country."

 St. Lawrence County legislator Tony Arquiett acknowledged safety concerns, but said some of the repeated stops and tickets for minor violations represent an overreach.

 "What we’re hoping to do is come to some middle ground, so that some of the folks coming in from areas, other states and most importantly our local taxpayers and registrants can utilize those trails and have fun out there, good family fun, without being stopped on a continual basis and checked for things that aren’t necessarily a matter of safety."

 But Stephen Litwhiler with the DEC, says riders were warned that officers would begin writing tickets this year for sleds without permits – or sleds that had their permit stickers in the wrong location.

 "The registrations that came in their mail did have a note reminding everybody about proper placement.  So this year we have started writing tickets on that."

 A meeting between law enforcement and sledders in St. Lawrence County is expected this week.

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