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The issue, however, is public safety. What will it take to enforce speed limits on these machines? The current situation is an accident waiting to happen!

In My View
By Gary M. Bowne
The Bulletin
January 3, 2004

This piece is in response to The Bulletin article "No Snowmobile Speed Limit at Dutchman" on Nov. 12.

The recent decision of the U.S. Forest Service to backpedal on speed limits for snowmobiles in the Dutchman Flat and Tumalo Mountain area is bad for cross-country skiers and snowshoers.

Instead of implementing a speed limit, Forest Service officials decided to simply post caution signs. This decision sets a dangerous precedent as nonmotorized users will continue to be threatened by unregulated high-speed snowmobile traffic.

I have been cross-country skiing in Central Oregon for over 30 years. During most of the 1970s, we could take off from the Mount Bachelor parking lot in any northwesterly direction and not encounter any snowmobiles. Gliding over a blanket of fresh snow glistening in the sunlight was a wonderful experience. An experience made special by the stillness of our mountain forests in winter. You might stop along the trail to encounter the sound of snow falling from the evergreens, birds chirping as they swooped down to steal a snack or the simple sound of your own heart beat.

The best way to describe these experiences in the solitude of nature is a state of relaxed joy. Relaxed and joyful to be away from the fears and threats to safety one encounters on the streets and highways of our towns and cities.

These truly contemplative encounters with nature in the Cascades are now but fond memories. They have been overwhelmed by the high-pitched sounds of snowmobiles whining their way over once peaceful roads and trails.

As our area has grown, more and more of these machines have encroached on cross-country ski trails with blatant disregard for the safety of the skiers.

Last winter, while skiing into Todd Lake, two snowmobiles veered off Century Drive at high speeds and literally ran us off the lower road. If not for the loud noise of the machines alerting us to the danger of this encounter, we may have been struck down in an area off limits to snowmobiles.

It is a fact the newer machines go faster. Snowmobiles in the 1970s had top speeds of 45-55 mph. Now, modern machines can race at speeds approaching 100 mph. Even though Mr. Speiger of the Oregon State Snowmobile Association (OSAA) said there is not enough evidence to warrant a speed limit at Dutchman Flat, I've seen these noisy machines exceed speeds of 50 mph regularly on and around this area shared by skiers.

Since the late 70s, snowmobilers have been granted unrestrained cross-country travel throughout the Dutchman Flat Nordic system. This poses a continuing threat to back-country skiers since these machines traveling at high speeds can approach them from any direction at any time.

Contrary to OSSA claims, many snowmobilers do not police themselves. I wonder, if speed limits on our nation's highways were never enforced, how many motorists would police themselves? Walt Schloer, USFS district ranger of the Bend-Fort Rock District, rescinded the plan to implement speed limits because of the "difficulty enforcing such a speed restriction."

Evidently, USFS law enforcement officers are unavailable and county sheriff's deputies cannot help enforce USFS regulations. Concern that a speed limit might be too drastic of a step, Mr. Schloer backpedaled and decided to post unenforceable caution signs instead.

If existing laws do not allow other law enforcement agencies to issue citations in USFS jurisdictions, they need to be changed. Speed limits in shared-use areas of our national forests are a matter of public safety.

The Oregon State Police and Deschutes County sheriffs deputies should consider a presence in the Dutchman Flat-Tumalo Mountain area. I see officers on the back roads, lakes, rivers and trails in the spring, summer and fall. Why should winter be any different?

Reluctantly, I've accepted many of the Forest Service multi-use policies and realize we must try to peacefully exist with snowmobiles, jet skis, motorcycles and ATVs on public lands.

The issue, however, is public safety. What will it take to enforce speed limits on these machines? The current situation is an accident waiting to happen!

Local backcountry ski advocate Dale Neubauer speaks for multitudes of cross-country skiers and snowshoers in calling for reasonable restrictions on speeding snowmobiles. I encourage others to speak up as well. Contact Deschutes National Forest Supervisor Leslie Weldon, and share your concerns.
--Gary M. Bowne has been a resident of Bend since 1972.


The Bulletin
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Speed is a problem for snowmobilers. Read the USFS Trail Tip reproduced below

Snow/trail conditions have improved at most elevations   01.27.04

Snow/trail conditions have improved at most elevations with 2-16" of new snow over the past few days. Forecast for next few days calls for more precipitation.

Just a safety reminder for all users to be aware of other users on/off the trails and for snowmobile operators that may tend to ride on the fast side to slow down. During the Martin Luther King Weekend on the Bend/Ft. Rock Ranger District there were 5 injury (broken bones) snowmobile accidents which were mostly attributable to either inexperience and/or speed.

Another serious injury snowmobile accident occurred near Odell Lake last Saturday that may have also involved riding too fast for the conditions.

Remember, share the trails safely. Have a safe week!
 --Chris Sabo, Trails/Wilderness





Read more . . .
SNOWMOBILES - a history of this discussion:
Snowmobile parking at Kapka Butte and Dutchman Flat revisited in 2009
Proposed Tumalo Recreation Zone in the Deschutes National Forest in 2009
Snowmobiler falls 1,500' into Mt. St. Helens and survives
Map of snowmobile restrictions at Dutchman Flat  
Snowmobile restrictions published for Dutchman Flat  
Snowmobile Safety Summit on Dutchman Flat area  
Report snowmobile renegades - an Editorial
Snowmobiles should not mix with skiers and snowshoers
Snowmobile accident draws $11 million dollar damage award
Snowmobilers keep the Atta Boy Race on track
Snowmobilers must give a little on parking at Dutchman Flat  
Recent snowmobile accidents near Bend
Set snowmobile limits at Dutchman Flat  
Unregulated OHV use is being reviewed across the western states
Snowmobile access to summit of Mt. St. Helens questioned by The Mountaineers
Snowmobile speed limits on Dutchman Flat in Oregon  
Snowmobiles offer thrills
Snowmobiles in Yellowstone
Snowmobiles as a tool for traditional mountaineering