Sometimes we snowmobilers are our own worst enemies.
Maybe that's a little strong so, at the very least, we don't help our cause much when we have the opportunity.
To me, it boils down to a combination of things we do as well as some things we aren't doing.
A couple of things we do that don't help us much (in fact, are a big black mark on the sport) are: riding in Wilderness areas and drinking and riding.
Look, there are very few things that make me as mad as the concept of Wilderness and the continual push for locking up the land. I think Wilderness is the most restrictive land use policy on the planet. I dare anyone to prove me wrong on that. No doubt there are some places that would be absolutely awesome riding spots if they were open to motorized recreation. But they're not. And so hands-and tracks-off. Wilderness is Wilderness and as such, we shouldn't ride there. If you're not sure whether an area is Wilderness or not, don't go or find out before you go. There are ways to find out. Sometimes it's not easy finding out, but it's important that you do.
Then there's drinking and riding. This seems like a no-brainer to me, but obviously it's not to everyone. I subscribe to a daily snowmobile update which scans news agencies (newspapers, TV stations and the like) across the world and sends me selected stories on any and all things snowmobiling. I'll bet you can just guess the most common story that comes across my computer on nearly a daily basis. It goes something like this: "Snowmobilers killed in accident-alcohol is suspected." Or there are serious injuries. Hey, I'm sorry if someone is seriously hurt or even killed, but when you drink and ride, aren't you asking for something serious to happen?
And if that isn't bad enough, as a result of some sledders drinking and riding, there is a push in some areas (although I'll admit, not lots of areas, but still some and that's too many) to simply close those riding spots down to snowmobilers. In the mind of those working toward that end, that will solve the problem. Or at least move it to a different area. That affects more than just the merry little band of riders who are the root cause of the problem. It affects the entire snowmobile community, both in bad press and lost snowmobiling opportunities.
In the arena of things we aren't doing, when we do do something positive-and I know there are a lot of positive things done by snowmobilers-very few people hear about it. Part of that is because, being the type of people we are, we're not usually ones to brag so the word never gets out. How many times have you heard in the media about how much money this club has donated to charity or how much that snowmobile association is doing for physically handicapped children?
Contrast that with any number of environmental groups who get endless ink about how they've shut this area down or saved this animal or done this great thing in the name of humanity or animals or the earth. No doubt about it, environmental groups know how to work the media.
I'm not suggesting we shout from the rooftops about our accomplishments but you might invite the local media along (in my opinion, local media is better than regional and definitely national media because you have a better chance of the truth being told fairly unbiased) on a ride when you are doing one of your charity events or something similar. Or invite local elected and non-elected officials. Invite anyone who you think might help get the good word out.
What if mistruths (or not all the truth) are being told about our sport? Do we do anything to try and set the record straight?
I just read a story as we were coming up on the deadline on this issue about gas tax and how an environmental group in a certain state said that state should stop using portions of it to fund snowmobile trail projects. Nowhere was it mentioned that snowmobilers pay their own way.
I know this isn't the case in every state or province but in Idaho, we pay our own way. Snowmobilers pay tax on the gas we purchase and a certain percentage of that money is "given back" to our state parks agency to help the state snowmobile program. And on top of that we have snowmobile registration fees that also help us pay our own way.
A phone call to the newspaper might help solve the problem of the particular story I read. Or a letter to the editor, which, I know, is after the fact, but maybe, just maybe next time, the truth will be told.
We so need to do a better job of getting the truth out about our sport. We have enough issues to deal with in the snowmobile industry. We-the true lovers of snowmobiling-don't need to add to those issues by the things we're doing-or not doing.