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Snowmobiles and Off-highway Recreation through the Years

Watch vintage NH footage from the early 1960s when snowmobiles first became popular.

Part of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department's storied history is the “snowmobile revolution” that took hold in the 1960s and has been growing ever since.

 

Northumberland’s Donald Marshall and his children were New Hampshire’s first real “snowmobilers” wrote former Bureau of Off Highway Vehicles director Paul Doherty in 1993. They purchased their Polaris Sno-Traveler in the winter of 1959-1960. Dave Parks of Lancaster purchased his first Ski-dog in 1960. He was quoted as having said, “People said I was crazy. They said this is a fad, it won’t last. Hell, it is the greatest thing that ever happened in winter.

 

 CO Arthur Muise and snowmachine - NHFG photo archiveDave Parks was right. Snowmobiles and snowmobilers were here to stay. Recreational snowmobile use rapidly increased during the 1960s and 1970s as people sought new outdoor activities during winter months.

 

The growing population required more public lands to access and a public access program initiated in the 1960s reopened or acquired new private land for public use.

 

New accessible lands allowed the growing ranks of snowmobilers to travel larger portions of New Hampshire’s forests.

 

Private landowners were fearful that increased access would lead to the abuse and destruction of their land. Former Conservation Officer Andrew Cannon figured “that landowner problems require[d] probably a good forty percent of time spent on snowmobile enforcement.”      

Early Snowmobile Education class - NHFG photo archive

 

The Department requested snowmobiles “to increase the mobility of the force with the over-the-snow vehicles to cope with the ever-increasing land and water use which our new highways has multiplied many-fold.”  When four Conservation Officers joined an expedition to the Allagash in northern Maine, history was made. The Department’s Law Enforcement Division became the first in the country to use snowmobiles for winter travel.

 

By 1967, a new law required the registration of snowmobiles (CO Carl Carlson issued the first summons for an unregistered snowmobile in Pittsburg in 1968).  This did not quell the trend of increasing violations. During the winters of 1970-1972, Fish and Game Law Enforcement dealt with 312 violations of snowmobile laws.

 

“Most problems stem from simple lack of education,” Cannonsaid. The solution was easy. Educated riders would help alleviate the concerns of landowners and the incidents that stemmed from inexperienced drivers. In 1973, House Bill 10 established the Off Highway Recreational Vehicle (OHRV) program and named Paul Doherty as director. The Law Enforcement Division became the program’s steward. Training programs were initiated in 1977 with the cooperation of volunteer instructors from snowmobile clubs. Volunteers donate their time to ensure that riders employ safe and lawful trail riding. The program has grown to include All Terrain Vehicles (ATVs) and other wheeled vehicles. In 2013, an online snowmobile/OHRV education course was added to provide an alternative safety training option and meet the demands of an increasingly technological and computer-savvy public.

 

The Law Enforcement Division and OHRV staff has increasingly been given more authority to protect against violations and irresponsiblebehavior. When snowmobile crash fatalities surged in the late 1990s, the Law Enforcement Division organized a Snowmobile Safety Awareness Committee. The committee adopted a zero tolerance for alcohol use policy that was nationally recognized. A significant drop in fatalities followed. In 2002, N.H. Fish and Game was given authority by new legislation to enter into OHRV Wheeled Vehicle Enforcement Contracts with local, county and state law enforcement agencies.

 

Maj. John Wimsatt -Sugar River Covered Bridge - Sullivan Co. NH 2015Over the following decade, snowmobile and OHRV programs continued to grow.  Over 7,000 miles of snowmobile trials existed by 2010 – affectionately known as the “White Carpet.”  In 2013, OHRV trail development increased rapidly, offering more than a thousand miles statewide.

 

Over 700 miles of these trails were located in Coos County. The increase in OHRV activity has created significant law enforcement challenges as, for the first time, large sections of both town and state roadways were opened up to OHRV use.