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Jack Savage's Forest Journal: Making connections on snowmobile trails

Armed with the latest trail conditions report from the New Hampshire Bureau of Trails, we headed north to finds some decent riding on snowmobiles last weekend. So far this year, the riding has been better the farther north you go.

I was pleasantly surprised to find, as reported, good conditions along what snowmobilers know as Corridor 19 - through Evans Notch in a portion of the White Mountain National Forest that straddles the Maine-New Hampshire border southwest of Gorham, N.H. It's beautiful country that I'd been through during the summer, but had never taken the opportunity to see in its white winter coat.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of snowmobilers are headed to Gorham this weekend to participate in the New Hampshire Snowmobile Association's annual Easter Seals Ride-In at the Town & Country Inn. The event raises tens of thousands of dollars for Easter Seals each year. Besides the charitable giving, snowmobiling is a billion dollar industry in New Hampshire that is essentially run by volunteers.

I recognize that not everyone appreciates snowmobiles. There are those who would prefer not to have what can sometimes be noisy machines zooming through the forest. And there are occasions when conflicts arise among multiple trail users - cross-country skiers or snowshoers or horseback riders, for example, who are looking for a slower, quieter interaction with the winter woods.

As the owner of a portion of snowmobile trail, I see that those potential conflicts can be minimized, allowing each recreational user to enjoy the experience they seek when everyone acts respectfully and responsibly. And given that there are more than 7,000 miles of snowmobile trails in New Hampshire, there ought to be room for us all (with a little help from the snow gods).

Additionally, I see snowmobiles as another way to introduce and connect people to the outdoors. In the conservation community, we often worry about that connection disappearing. Over time, as we have become a more urban, less rural society, more people live their lives solely in an industrialized, built environment where water comes from a faucet, food comes from a store and nature is a park with a fountain.

And so when I see a family gearing up to go for a snowmobile ride, I rejoice. They are expending a great deal of effort and expense to take themselves into the snowy woods or to a scenic outlook. In many cases, they are choosing to remove themselves from the comfort of the indoors in order to be outside, and I trust that the wonder of the woods in winter will work its magic and create an appreciation for the unbuilt environment.

There's reason to believe that it works. Snowmobilers, as a group, have become very supportive of land conservation efforts. Not only do they appreciate the landscape, they understand the concept of connectivity - that when it comes to wildlife or working forest or a trail from point A to point B, fragmentation can be destructive. So when we're working to connect one parcel of conserved land with another by protecting a piece in-between, there are plenty of snowmobilers who understand the concept and are willing to help.

So tip your hat the next time you come across a snowmobiler; there might just be a conservationist under all that gear.



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Jack Savage is the editor of Forest Notes: New Hampshire's Conservation Magazine published by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, and a member of the Powder Mill Snowmobile Club in New Durham/Middleton. He can be reached at jsavage@forestsociety.org.

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