CUMBERLAND — The Town Council voted 5-2 Monday to allow a local snowmobile club to access part of the Town Forest trail.
The decision came despite a Conservation Commission recommendation against allowing the club to use the trail.
The Moonlight Skimmers Snowmobile Club wants to use the “outer loop” of the trail from Marker 3 to Marker 11. The Town Forest is behind Town Hall, off Tuttle Road.
Club member Shawn McBreairty told the council that the group sought access to approximately 0.7 miles of the Town Forest trail, with proper signage, and to educate its members about the changes, so that safe practices are maintained.
The club requested the use in part so it could bypass part of its own trail, which “runs through a swampy area and needs maintenance.” That trail, from the town’s salt shed to Route 9, was “rerouted and not well groomed” when the nearby Village Green subdivision was constructed, according to minutes from the Dec. 2 meeting of the Town Lands and Conservation Commission.
The commission at that meeting recommended the Town Council not allow snowmobiles on the Town Forest trail, except at snowmobile crossings.
Commission Chairman Sam York praised the “openness and the frankness” of his panel’s talks with the club, noting that “we recognize that the snowmobile club is a stand-up organization. They will do what they say, and they will respect whatever rules we put in place.”
But nonmembers, who don’t operate under the same restrictions a members of the club, could use the trail as well, York said. He noted that many seniors, families and hikers have used the newly opened Town Forest trail in recent months, and usage this winter is not yet known.
“This particular set of trails … (will) demand a lot of safety concerns,” York said.
Councilor Ron Copp noted that cross-country skiers enjoy using snowmobile trails, since the vehicles pack down and groom the snow.
“My thoughts are that the snowmobile club will maintain these trails at zero cost to the town, and it will be a much better trail system if we allow them to use it,” he said.
Commission member Brad Hilton said he thinks the Town Forest trails should be primarily for pedestrians.
“I would like to see what were going to get for traffic in this pedestrian trail this winter, because we’ve done such a nice improvement,” he said. “… We ought to evaluate that, and see how it goes.”
Councilor Mike Edes noted that snowmobile speeds should not be an issue, since the geography of the trails keeps speeds between 20-25 mph at best. Since it is town property, it should be inclusive for all users, including snowmobilers, he said.
Councilor George Turner looked at inclusiveness from another perspective.
“Think about the people who won’t use the trails because snowmobilers are there, or potentially there,” he said. “… So this is an opportunity to allow people to use those trails and feel confident they can go on a walk and not hear a motor coming up behind them.”
Although she said she is not a fan of snowmobiles, Councilor Shirley Storey-King said she enjoys the snowmobile trails, noting the amount of time the snowmobile club puts into them. She also pointed out that it doesn’t make sense to have the vehicles run through wetlands.
“It might be fine for them to smoosh through it,” Storey-King said, “but that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me when there are other options environmentally to avoid that wet marshy area.”
In supporting the club’s request, she said, “I do want to see how it goes a year at a time.”
Turner and Tom Gruber voted against the proposal.
The Town Forest trail system is in green, while the white area represents the part the Moonlight Skimmers Snowmobile Club plans to use this winter, as permitted Monday by the Cumberland Town Council. The horizontal line shown in blue is the piece of snowmobile trail that the club wants to abandon because it is swampy and needs maintenance.