Trails in the County Forest to remain closed to snowmobiling due to absence of user agreement

Cobourg, ON – June 16, 2021 –Trails in the Northumberland County Forest will remain closed to snowmobiling, indefinitely. Northumberland County Council made this decision today based on a lack of progress in reaching a user agreement with the local snowmobile club. 

County Forest trails are typically accessible to snowmobilers through an annual agreement between the County and the Great Pine Ridge Snowmobile Association (GPRSA). Following more than a year and a half of discussion and negotiation to arrive at an updated agreement, which would enable snowmobilers to continue accessing Forest trails while strengthening protections from liability and risk for Northumberland taxpayers, an agreement is still outstanding, prompting Council to take this step.

In an open letter issued today to members of the GPRSA, County Council acknowledged that “this is disappointing news for many in our community who look forward to snowmobiling as an opportunity to enjoy the Forest, connect with nature, and have fun with friends and family. This is not the outcome Council was striving for. However, without a proper agreement in place, the burden of risk related to this recreation activity is simply too great to place on Northumberland taxpayers.”

In late 2019, following a standard review of the existing annual Memorandum of Understanding with the GRPSA, Northumberland County proposed an updated user agreement. With motorized sports like snowmobiling representing a higher degree of risk for accidents and injuries than other recreation activities permitted in the Forest, and with municipalities across Ontario facing growing liability and insurance costs under the provincial Joint and Several Liability framework, an updated agreement was deemed a necessary step.

Without enhanced protections, under current legislation, a serious legal claim could result in Northumberland County paying 100 per cent of the damage awards even if found only 1 per cent responsible for the claim, with potentially substantial property tax increases then required to fund the cost. As a steward of taxpayer dollars, Council directed that an updated standard agreement be circulated to all clubs representing motorized trail users in the County Forest in order to mitigate this risk.

This updated agreement was quickly finalized with clubs representing ATVers and off-road motorcyclers, ensuring these activities could move forward for the summer season. Despite a deadline of May 31, 2021 for implementation of an agreement with the snowmobile club, as of today’s County Council meeting, an agreement remains outstanding.

In the letter to GPRSA members, Council expresses appreciation for the history of collaboration between the County and the GPRSA to ensure snowmobile enthusiasts are able to enjoy the County Forest trail network. “We are hopeful that we will receive a signed agreement from the club in the future, enabling snowmobilers to access the trails once again, while ensuring an acceptable level of risk for the County and Northumberland taxpayers. Until that time, trails in the Forest must regrettably remain closed to snowmobiling.”

Read the full open letter from Northumberland County Council to members of the Great Pine Ridge Snowmobile Association.

Read our Frequently Asked Questions for more information on the current status of snowmobiling in the Northumberland County Forest.