A recent story in my local newspaper, headlined "Snowmobiler says riders endure hate" made me sit up straight. The article quoted Clark Collins of the Idaho-based BlueRibbon Coalition, who said that snowmobilers have become victims of a campaign "akin to any other hate campaign against ethnic or religious groups."
Mr. Collins' comments interest me
because I strongly dislike -- hate is such an ugly word -- many of
the people on snowmobiles I encounter. I hoped the article would
shed light on the internal conflict I feel over my negative
feelings, since I'm a snowmobile rider myself.
Collins and his coalition provided an easy explanation for my
dislike: My mind has been poisoned by propaganda sent out by
environmental organizations. Since I don't belong to any
environmental organization, this reasoning doesn't work for me.
No, my dislike is based on personal experience. I work as
a caretaker for a Girl Scout camp, located at 9,200 feet in Utah's
Wasatch Mountains. The nearest plowed road is five miles and a
couple of thousand vertical feet away, so my family and I commute
by snowmobile during winter. At the camp, one of my main duties is
maintaining the safety and integrity of the camp, and this involves
keeping out intruders.
Most of the year, this is an easy
task. During winter it's a nightmare. No matter how many No
Trespassing, No Snowmobiling signs I post; no matter how many sign
ropes I string from tree to tree, almost any weekend brings a
handful of snowmobilers riding right through the middle of camp.
Yet these snowmobilers have thousands of acres nearby where they
can legally ride.
Every snowmobiler who approaches one of
my No Trespassing signs unknowingly participates in an informal
survey I'm conducting. They sign my survey with their tracks left
in the snow. A snowmobile track turning around at the sign gets a
checkmark in the Snowmobilers-Are-Law-Abiding-Funseekers column.
A track that drives right past the sign, which can mean
moving a sign and lifting a rope to pass by, gets a checkmark in
the Snowmobilers-Are-Lawless-Private-Property-Abusers column. So
far this winter, abusers outnumber the law-abiders eight to one.
I'd like to ask a few follow-up questions for my survey,
but I rarely get the chance. When at the sound of approaching
snowmobiles I walk out my front door and wave someone over, most
riders look right at me as they hit their throttles and accelerate
past. The few who stop are usually apologetic and agree to turn
around, though I am dumbfounded when they all try to pass off
riding past a clearly visible No Trespassing sign as an honest
Occasionally, I get on my snowmobile and chase
down the trespassers. This invariably leads to the kind of nasty
encounter that cements my dislike for this group. I'd quote a few
gems from the verbal abuse I've heard, but no newspaper would print
Though I've been threatened in my two winters here,
I've avoided having to duck a punch. My predecessor, a woman
standing all of 5 foot 4 inches, wasn't so lucky. She was
physically accosted on several occasions by trespassing
snowmobilers who didn't want to hear that they couldn't ride on
private, posted property. Once, a 6-foot-something man choked her
and threw her to the snow, while his father watched from another
snow machine. Snowmobiler encounters, she said, drove her from the
job after five years.
I want to believe the majority of
snowmobilers are responsible, law-abiding citizens, as Mr. Collins
claims, and not the arrogant boors he says environmentalists make
them out to be in an attempt to poison my mind. As it turns out, I
make up my mind largely based on what I experience, and what I've
seen are obnoxious people contemptuous of private-property rights.
If Mr. Collins and his BlueRibbon Coalition really are
interested in reducing snowmobile conflict, they might turn their
efforts inward. Never mind that Collins couldn't cite any specific
example of the hate mail he alleged, or that the Salt Lake Tribune
article found a link from the BlueRibbon Web site to a columnist
deriding environmentalists as "Satan's servants," who "should be
beaten senselessly and ultimately exterminated." The hate-campaign
rhetoric is unproductive at best and sadly absurd at worst.
It's also a slap in the face to ethnic and religious
groups that are victimized by hate campaigns. Until snowmobile-user
groups rein in their abusive members, they will continue to make
themselves easy targets of negative stereotyping, and they will
continue to lose ground in their fight to improve their public