Canada: Snowmobile wars heat up in the cold north

In Muskoka, Ontario, landowners try to close off the snowmobile trails that run on their land, threatening a multimillion-dollar business.

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    Canadian snowmobilers pause to watch a hockey game.
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• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

In Muskoka, Ontario, where waist-high levels of snow blanket the earth for sometimes half the year, snowmobiling is a multimillion-dollar business. Stores depend on residents and cottagers welcoming the chance to ride these powered sleds through the many rural communities in the region.

That’s why it’s so disconcerting to some that the Muskoka Landowners Association (MLA) is threatening again to shut down the trails that run on their land.

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“The landowners of Ontario are not going to stand for having their property rights trampled,” says Deborah Madill. Ms. Madill, vice president of the MLA, is devoted to rebelling against the increasingly stringent environmental laws enacted by the provincial government. “My land, my liberty, my decision” is the slogan she uses in her e-mails to supporters that warn about the dangers of big government.

The MLA formed in January 2009 to protest the district of Muskoka’s bylaw limiting tree-cutting, which would require a permit to harvest more than 10 acres of land. In a follow-up, the MLA closed down snowmobile lanes on the 30,000 acres of areas owned by its members. The district backed down.

Now, Madill and the MLA are taking the fight beyond the tree-cutting bylaw. “The tree-cutting bylaw was the mere tip of an iceberg of restrictive environmental-legislation policies,” said Madill during a press conference. “Landowners are the best managers of their property, because we own it.”

As part of the Algonquin Snowmobile Club, Marlene Kyle thinks the MLA has gone to drastic methods. “It’s definitely a poor tactic that has a lot of impact. Snowmobiling generates a lot of revenue for businesses up here,” she says. “They’re using snowmobile clubs as leverage.”

It seems the snowmobile wars in Muskoka are just heating up.

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