The Confederation Trail has been turned over to the P.E.I. Snowmobile Association for the winter after a recent snowfall on Jan. 3.
The trails are reserved for the snowmobile association in the winter, and the volunteerled group manages and maintains the snow surface for its members.
Association president Dale Hickox is reminding walkers to stay off the trails while they are being maintained for snowmobile traffic.
“It’s for your own safety,” he said.
In recent years, there have been a number of close calls between snowmobiles and a person or an off-leash dog on the trail.
The lease agreement between the province and the association stipulates that, while the association is in charge, the Confederation Trail is for snowmobiles only.
The dates for the snowmobilers used to be set from Dec. 1 to March 31, but that changed in 2016. Now the lease comes into effect when there is enough snow for the association to groom the trails.
Hickox understands people who use the Confederation Trail in the summer would naturally want to be on it in the winter as well.
“I get that,” he said. “I want the walkers on it if we’re not there.”
In seasons like this one with its late snow, summer rules remain in effect until the tip-to-tip network is snow-covered and ready for the “sleds” as enthusiasts call their snowmobiles.
Now that there is enough snow to have association members out and about, Hickox reminds everyone that even though the hard-packed snow is a tempting way to explore winter, it’s not the same trail as in summertime.
The speed limit in rural areas is 80 km/hr, and the snowmobiles “don’t stop in a second,” he said, adding most of the machines are a lot quieter than they used to be and can catch people unaware.
“In the summer, you don’t have to worry, it’s only a bicycle coming behind you. But in the wintertime, it’s a motorized vehicle that’s coming and it’s going a lot faster than a bicycle,” he said.
At the end of last season, Hickox and the association were in discussion with the province about putting up signs at road crossings to help educate trail users of the winter rules.
It didn’t happen this year, but Hickox hopes if the association gets the signs in time for next year, the provincial workers could put them up when they open the gates at each road crossing in advance of the snowmobile season.
Destinie Graham, a new P.E.I. resident, agreed signs would help.
“I moved from out of province, so I had no idea about the snowmobile association having exclusive rights to the trail until it was mentioned by a community member. Signage would help to inform people who may not be on social media,” she said.
For now, Hickox said the association is planning a radio campaign to help educate people about safety on the Confederation Trail in winter.
Alison Jenkins, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Journal-Pioneer