SHAFTSBURY -- The Shaftsbury Select Board debated on Monday night how to make the town more accessible to snowmobilers, after a request from the Shaftsbury Snow Pilots.
About a month ago, the Snow Pilots reached out to Select Board Chairman Tim Scoggins asking to be allowed to be given legal permission to ride on the unplowed shoulders of roads, so as to access the system of VAST (Vermont Association of Snow Travelers) trails in the town. The board had voted to allow their request, so long as a new bylaw was not required. At the next meeting, on Aug. 8, Scoggins announced that, as there was a state statute governing snowmobiles riding on shoulders, a bylaw would be required, and on Monday the board voted to rescind their previous motion.
"As the statutes read right now," said Scoggins, "you can't drive snowmobiles on roads unless you are on the unplowed portion of the road, plus five feet. You cannot get within five feet of the plowed portion of the road, except to cross the road, and there a lot of specifics about how they can cross the road."
In order to clarify some of the laws involved, Scoggins invited game warden Sgt. Travis Buttle to the meeting. "What Travis and I couldn't seem to agree on last night is, as it stands now," said Scoggins, "snowmobiles have permission to drive on the unplowed portion of the roads as long as they stay five feet from the plowed portion, without the select board doing anything else.
"The biggest thing we were talking about," responded Buttle, "is land ownership, and how wide the roads are. To have the five feet off the side of the road statute apply, as far as the legal side, for us, if we're enforcing it, the ownership has to be on the town. In cases where the plowed ridge of snow is also the edge of the road, then you're encroaching on private property, and I don't believe the select board or the town has the authority to say, ‘Go ahead and ride on this person's property.' That was where the concern was."
Scoggins agreed with Buttle's assessment, and asked about a specific spot the snowmobile club had inquired about, the underpass on East Road, under Route 7, "Frequently, the entire underpass is plowed, so to travel on East Road, which is one of the roads they requested, they can't stay unplowed plus five feet, they have to come into the road or go onto private property. What would be the implication of us giving specific spots that allow them onto the road just long enough to get around obstructions?"
"My best recommendation," said Buttle, "is that the statutes give you guys the authority to open certain town roads, or sections of town roads, for snowmobile use. The idea is you're giving them a conduit between areas they're already legal to ride on. If you can do that, it's good for the snowmobile club and the town, and you're making it enforceable on our side."
Buttle said the underpass on East Road is an excellent example, because the path some snowmobilers take to get around that underpass now, which leads through a privately owned field, up an embankment and across Route 7, could get them as many as eight citations. "That underpass under 7, that makes complete sense, and I think there are other roads that I think it would be good to discuss whether to open for at least partial snowmobile use, again, connecting certain sections of the area."
Scoggins said that he would need to get the Snow Pilots to come to a select board meeting, so they could go over which sections of road would need to be made legal for snowmobiling. Buttle offered to act as an intermediary between the board and the club, to make sure everything was being done correctly and legally. He said snowmobiling is much smoother if the town, the local club, and property owners keep lines of communication open.
"I've had landowners approach me," he said, "and say that they would have given permission, if they had only been asked."
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB