2018-02-11 / Sports

Enhanced snowmobile enforcement effort helps make experience safer

Michigan conservation officers run a sound check in Chippewa County. Sgt. Mike Hammill mans the sound meter, Conservation Officer Josh Boudreaux is next to him and Conservation Officer Kevin Postma is with the rider with his back toward the camera. 
Photo courtesy MI DNR Michigan conservation officers run a sound check in Chippewa County. Sgt. Mike Hammill mans the sound meter, Conservation Officer Josh Boudreaux is next to him and Conservation Officer Kevin Postma is with the rider with his back toward the camera. Photo courtesy MI DNR SAULT STE. MARIE — Michigan Department of Natural Resources Conservation Officers increased snowmobile patrols during the 50th running of the International 500 Snowmobile Race this past Feb. 1-4 in Sault Ste. Marie. It’s the oldest and longest snowmobile race on record.

Law enforcement officers patrol the area around the race each year to help provide a safe and fun experience for all.

Enhanced patrols began Thursday in Chippewa County with the attempted Guinness World record snowmobile parade, associated with the race, which included over 900 participants.

Several thousand visitors and residents took to the area trails during the weekend. The enhanced patrols concluded Sunday morning.

“Safety on the trails is paramount, and it’s our top priority,” said Lt. Skip Hagy, DNR District 2 law supervisor. “With stepped up patrols, our goal is to provide a safe and enjoyable experience for everyone, and to have everyone go home alive and in one piece at the end of their trip.”

Fresh snow and cold temperatures made for good trail conditions in the area during the Feb. 1-4 weekend event.

Conservation officers made over 1,075 contacts with visitors during the snowmobile patrol efforts, the majority of which were positive interactions. During these contacts, officers answered questions, gave directions, advised riders of trail conditions and discussed operating tips to help increase safety on the trails.

Hagy noted there were no fatalities, or known accidents, in the enhanced patrol area during race weekend.

“Again this year we received many positive comments from trail riders during our enforcement efforts,” Hagy said. “Many stated they appreciated the patrols and commented on seeing several officers on the trails.”

In addition to Michigan residents, snowmobilers from Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Ontario enjoyed the Sault Ste. Marie area trail system over the weekend.

The enhanced enforcement effort also continued to focus on snowmobile noise violations, part of a statewide effort to create more enjoyable experiences for all trail riders and ensure the state’s 6,200 miles of snowmobile trails – 50 percent of which run through private land – remain open to snowmobilers in future years.

Michigan’s vast snowmobile trail system is the result of partnerships with private landowners who, through annual permits between the landowners and snowmobile clubs, open portions of their land for snowmobile trails. Without these partnerships, the expansive, interconnected trail system enjoyed by thousands of snowmobilers each year wouldn’t exist.

Under Michigan law, the muffler on a snowmobile must be in good working order and, when in constant operation, noise emission cannot exceed 88 decibels at 13.1 feet, as measured using the 2004 Society of Automotive Engineers standard J2567 for a stationary snowmobile manufactured after July 1, 1980.

“We have lost sections of our state snowmobile system due to loud machines,” Hagy said. “Some of the landowners haven’t renewed their permits because they’re unhappy with loud snow machines. This enforcement effort helps us maintain what we have and hopefully helps us to be able to successfully expand our trails in other areas in the future.”

During race weekend patrol efforts, 30 verbal warnings were given out for various violations. Twenty-five snowmobile related tickets were issued for careless operation, sound level, registration and trail permit violations.

“Officers’ running sound patrols was definitely a topic of discussion among many snowmobilers – they recognized we’ve stepped up this enforcement statewide and expected to see us out working this,” Hagy said. “Several snowmobilers said they had replaced their aftermarket ‘loud’ exhaust systems before coming up for the weekend because they knew sound enforcement patrols would be out there.”

For more information on snowmobiling in Michigan, including current laws and regulations, go to www.michigan.gov/snowmobiling.

Local connection

On Feb. 8, 1969 in the inaugural race, Lapeer County’s Dan Planck of Davison and Otis and Leonard Cowles, were among the 26 teams that finished the 500 laps in 13 hours and 42 minutes, over a grueling 13,891 miles in one day. The teams were required to switch out drivers at least every 50 laps. Forty seven sleds started the race with only 26 finishing. Of note, the first track was snow-based only. Today, the track is a 1-mile ice oval with banked turns. Speeds can reach upwards of 115 mph on the straightaways and 80 mph on the curves. In the first race, spectators were free to cross the track, which had no fences or protection. Fans wandered freely among the hills and racers, who reached top speeds of 36 mph. Today, the track has a buffer zone and snow fencing separating the fans from the oval, with most watching from the hilltops or from the comfort of their RVs parked nearby.

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