Cumberland council reaffirms trail use by snowmobiles

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CUMBERLAND — The Town Council voted a second time Monday to allow a local snowmobile club to access part of the Town Forest trail.

The town’s Lands and Conservation Committee, which had recommended against that usage, had asked the council to reconsider its Dec. 28, 2015 decision allowing the Moonlight Skimmers Snowmobile Club to access part of the trail.

The club had requested, and was permitted by the council, to use the “outer loop” of the trail from around Marker 3 to Marker 11. The Town Forest is behind Town Hall, off Tuttle Road.

Club member Shawn McBreairty told the council last month that the group sought access to seven-tenths of a mile of the, with proper signage, and to educate members about the changes, so that safe practices are maintained.

The club asked for the use in part so it could bypass part of its own trail, which “runs through a swampy area and needs maintenance,” according to minutes from the Dec. 2 meeting of the Town Lands and Conservation Commission. 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 the minutes.

The commission at the Dec. 28 meeting recommended the Town Council not allow snowmobiles on the Town Forest trail, except at snowmobile crossings.

Commission Chairman Sam York has praised the “openness and the frankness” of his panel’s discussions with the club, and called the club “a stand-up organization,” with members who “will do what they say, and they will respect whatever rules we put in place.”

But York’s concern has been about nonmembers, who do not operate under the same restrictions as club members when they use the trail. He also said many senior citizens, families and hikers have started using the recently opened Town Forest trail.

The commission’s trail improvement project has been underway since 2013, and its trail usage criteria included having the trails be open to pedestrians only, York explained Monday.

Snowmobile use “flies in the face of where we want to be,” he said. “We want to have safe trails for everyone, for those that can’t fend for themselves, for children that might not understand … the dangers of having motorized vehicles in the same area.”

The commission this month proposed a compromise from what the council approved: the club’s usage of the trail would be eliminated between Markers 3 and 7; a 15-mph speed limit would be enacted on multi-use trails, and club trail usage would be subject to approval on an annual basis.

The Marker 7 exit would allow for a pedestrian-only loop trail, York said.

“We’re looking to compromise with the snowmobilers,” he added, also suggesting that a snowmobile trail could be created for next year that runs from the salt shed, straight across the Town Forest to the M3, with only two pedestrian trail crossings.

There are exits at both M3 and M7 from the trail into a field.

Town Manager Bill Shane noted in an email after Monday’s meeting that M7 – which the commission would like the club to use – has no bridge, but rather a 4-foot-wide unimproved trail that can only fit one snowmobile at a time. Roots protrude through the snow, and there is a 15-inch deep, 3-foot-wide ditch at the Town Forest’s entrance from the field.

M3, which the club sought to keep using as the council permitted last month, has a temporary bridge that the club installed, and has no terrain issues, Shane added.

Although allowed to use only part of the Town Forest trail, the club grooms all of it, McBreairty noted Monday.

“The grooming has made a huge difference in the ability of people to walk those trails,” council Chairman Peter Bingham noted.

But the M7 exit is not wide enough to fit trail-grooming equipment, McBreairty said, adding, “If you met a snowmobile (there), you’re hung up, basically.”

Councilor George Turner who, with Councilor Tom Gruber voted against the proposal last month and did so again Monday, expressed respect for the club and its work on the trail. He said his decision concerned seniors and people with infirmities being able to use the network without having to worry about snowmobiles.

“So far, no one’s demonstrated to me that there are any unsafe situations here,” Councilor Bill Stiles said, adding that while he welcomes compromises, “I’m wondering … whether it’s just plain too late to put this into effect.”

Councilor Mike Edes, noting his extensive public safety experience, said, “This is not a safety issue. If I thought for a minute this was going to compromise public safety, I wouldn’t be voting for it. This is a trail that … can be used safely.”

The council ultimately voted 5-2 in favor of Edes’s motion to allow the club access to the trail, the same margin as last month’s vote.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

The map shows Cumberland’s Town Forest trail system in green, while the white area represents the part the Moonlight Skimmers Snowmobile Club plans to use this winter. The horizontal line shown in blue is the piece of snowmobile trail that the club abandoned because it is swampy and needs maintenance.

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.