For decades, six of the Ontario Federation of Snowmobile Clubs (OFSC) member clubs have enjoyed a mutually beneficial partnership with the Grand River Conservation Authority (GRCA) - Arthur Snowblazers, Elmira Snowmobile Club, Fergus Elora Belwood Snowmobile Club, Hillsburgh Snow Roamers, Lake Conestoga Snowmobile Club, and the Orangeville Snowmobile Club. Through this partnership, club volunteers have built and maintained snowmobile trails on GRCA managed lands for the recreational enjoyment of riders, as well as for the economic benefit to their small local communities. Unfortunately, it now appears club volunteers will have to re-route their trails around the GRCA for the second season in a row due to the inability to obtain an appropriate land use agreement with the conservation authority.
In July 2019, clubs became aware of clauses in GRCA’s land use agreement that could expose them to personal uninsured risk and began reaching out to the conservation authority to discuss changes to the annual agreement. After months of conversation it was determined last November that an agreement could not be reached for the 2020 snowmobile season. Both sides decided that the partnership was important and agreed to continue to work towards a solution for the 2021 winter season. Many meetings took place over the summer between OFSC member clubs, district representatives and GRCA staff. Unfortunately, the meetings and discussions were unsuccessful at producing a new agreement.
The OFSC, on behalf of their member clubs, carries Commercial General Liability insurance that will respond on behalf of its clubs, its volunteers, and its landowners in the event of any claim arising from activities that are usual to a snowmobile club. However, for a number of years the GRCA agreement has contained clauses that have been putting clubs and volunteers at personal uninsured risk. Specifically, their agreement required that the clubs also ensure the safety of the other user groups that GRCA invites to utilize the properties on a year-round basis, as well as indemnifying and holding harmless the GRCA for other liability that has nothing to do with the operation of a snowmobile trail.
According to Karen Buratynski, Manager OFSC District 9, the club volunteers were extremely disappointed with the most recent decision from the GRCA. Buratynski noted that “It’s heartbreaking that clubs and riders will not have access again for the 2021 snowmobile season. This is about more than just user fees and risk management programs. This is about the thousands of hours our dedicated volunteers have spend tending to GRCA managed properties over many years. It’s also about the many riders that will not be able to experience the winter beauty of these properties and the small local businesses that will suffer”. Buratynski went on to note that well over $200K of snowmobile permit money and club fundraising dollars have been spent over the years to upgrade infrastructure (bridges, culverts, damns), complete brushing projects, and renovate/improve out buildings on these GRCA managed properties.
The local clubs have been researching potential reroutes around the GRCA managed property all summer in the event that a suitable agreement could not be reached. These plans will now start to be implemented and the volunteers are confident that, although GRCA lands cannot be used, trail connectivity will continue. The clubs and districts are committed to continue discussions with the GRCA in an attempt partner with them again in the future.