Snowmobilers need permission to ride on private property

This article submitted by Michael Jacobson on 2/9/00.

Snowmobile complaints may be more predictable than the weather, especially with the limited amount of snow this year. "As soon as it snows," explained Paynesville Police Chief Tony Schmitt, "we get complaints."

"The main problem," he continued, "is the operation of snowmobiles on private property, which includes sidewalks and boulevards. That is our main complaint."

So far, the police department has received around 20 complaints, both formal and merely verbal. "And you realize there hasn't been much snow this year," said Schmitt. "These complaints have been realized over a short period of time when it's been fit to snowmobile."

"It's irritating when you just shoveled your sidewalk and a snowmobile rolls over it," Schmitt continued. "It's supposed to be operated on the street, with the traffic, at 15 miles per hour."

Mike Kotschevar, president of the Koronis Hills Snowmobile Club, knows firsthand the consequences of irre-sponsible riders. The club's primary responsibility is to maintain the state grant-in-aid trails around Paynesville, and they face the task of placating landowners who are upset by riders who don't stay on the trail.

"People don't appreciate other people's property," Kotschevar ex-plained. "It's always a handful that ruins it for everyone else."

Each fall the club posts and marks the trail, a task that is becoming increasingly difficult due to the extra fences and twine needed to keep some snow-mobilers on the trail. Kotschevar said the process now takes two days instead of one. The golf course, for instance, has 13 rows of fencing.

Snowmobilers "are going on private property without permission," said Chuck Nelson, a Department of Natural Resources officer. "Agricultural land is considered posted. That's what they have to remember. Most people don't mind if they're in the ditch."

Land in federal or state wildlife programs or in the Conservation Reserve Program is also considered agricultural land, according to Nelson, and cannot be crossed without permission.

Right-of-ways extend from the center of the road, so what may look like yard may actually be public right-of-way. "To be courteous," Nelson said, "don't drive on someone's yard."

Nelson, Schmitt, and Paynesville patrolman Kent Kortlever all stressed that barriers to snowmobilers cannot be placed in the road right-of-way. On city streets, the right-of-way extends 33' from the center of the street.

Ropes or wire are particularly dangerous to snowmobilers, and could cause bodily harm. Schmitt and Kortlever said property owners should consider their civil liability before erecting something that could harm someone. Nelson, who urged common sense, reported a snowmobiler has been clipped in the neck by a rope near Paynesville, without injury.

Schmitt and Kortlever reported speeding and failing to stop as the other main violations within the city. The speed limit in town is 15 miles per hour. On public land outside the city, including lakes, the speed limit is 50 miles per hour. There is no speed limit on private property but you need permission to be there.

A couple weekends ago, Nelson helped patrol two area lakes with a DNR group. "We encountered many snow-mobilers going between 70 and 90 miles per hour," Nelson said. They also wrote tickets for registration violations as well.

Snowmobilers also need to stop at all road crossings. In the city, that means they need to stop at every street intersection. "Snowmobiles, whether there's a stop sign or not, have to stop for a city street," said Schmitt.

He added that it's particularly dangerous when a snowmobile runs in the ditch and fails to stop on the approach to the street. There have been accidents in the past when a snowmobile hit a car on the street.

Catching snowmobilers in patrol cars is rather difficult. The public can help the police by notifying them imme-diately if they witness a violation. If they can, citizens can try to read the registration number on the hood of the snowmobile, but this is difficult because the letters are small (three inches maximum), are in varying positions, and because the machines are moving.

Other snowmobiling requirements include heading directly from a city residence out of town. Snowmobiles are to be used for transportation within the city limits.

•Anyone born after Dec. 31, 1979, must have a snowmobile safety certificate.

•Anyone under 18 must wear a helmet.

•The owner of a snowmobile may be charged with illegal operation of a snowmobile if they allow theirs to be used in violation of the previous rules.

•Snowmobiles may not be operated on a state highway or a state grant-in-aid highway except to cross at a 90-degree angle or to cross a bridge.

•One half hour after sunset, snowmobiles in the ditch must ride in the direction of traffic.

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