Snowmobiling in Quebec distinguishes itself by its trail network which is the object of envy from snowmobilers everywhere. Totalling over 33,000 km of interconnected trails located in virtually every corner of the province, it stands as one of the most impressive recreational trail networks in the world. In fact, there are more kilometers of groomed trails in Quebec than there are of paved roads maintained by Quebec`s Ministry of Transport! While the latter are property of the state, the same cannot be said of snowmobile trails.
The arrival of the snowmobile, and particularly the incredible popularity boom of the 1960s and early 1970s, changed Quebec`s rural landscape. In essence, it is not to overstate matters to proclaim that the snowmobile became, almost overnight, a “must have” for a significant number of Quebec families. The practically unbounded passion of the new enthusiasts resulted in the countryside becoming a huge playground, with snowmobile tracks appearing almost everywhere. While one could assume that farmers and landowners would have objected to this condition, the reality was that most got swept up in the fervour themselves, contributing to the situation.
The arrival of trails
At the beginning of the 1970s, some began working towards the establishment of a trail network that would link communities and permit travelling to take place in a safer and more consistent setting. The process of creating these trails started off slowly and rather informally, with (snowmobiling) landowners offering up access to their land for this fledgling network. Localized and formalized trail systems began developing in a simultaneous fashion across Quebec, and soon visionaries began contemplating and calling for the establishment of an interconnected, province-wide network.
Growing into a new reality
As the developing system grew over time, doing so at an ever-increasing pace, new concerns began to appear, namely getting land access from landowners who were not avid snowmobilers, as well as issues related to liability concerns. As is often the case, the solution to both issues laid in a single course of action, that is, the creation of proper land-use permission agreements. These simultaneously made it possible to establish precise terms and conditions for the use of land, while also creating a contractual basis for the issuance of critical liability insurance coverage for the landowners.
Land-use permission agreements continue to be the basis for the establishment of trails on private land (which account for 50% of the FCMQ`s 33,000 km of trails). Each fall, volunteers from each of the FCMQ`s 198 member clubs meet and negotiate tens of thousands of land-use agreements with landowners. These standardized agreements provide protection to landowners. It is important to note that landowners receive no payment or compensation for extending this privilege to the snowmobiling community. In the case of public lands, clubs must obtain permission from the land manager.
Loss of land use
Land use is a privilege, not a right. As such, the land-use agreement is an inherently fragile document that can be revoked at virtually any time by the landowner. As such, clubs often rely on signage or other means to raise awareness and ensure that snowmobilers respect the allocated corridors. Despite this, the issue remains contentious and snowmobilers are reminded that seemingly harmless off-trail excursions could potentially have a serious impact on the trail`s long-term sustainability.
The FCMQ, its clubs and volunteers are extremely grateful for the generosity of landowners, for without them, our trail system would cease to exist. In recognition of this selfless and on-going support of organized snowmobiling in the province, the FCMQ has created a Landowner appreciation program. In existence for over 10 years now, the program provides for prizes to be drawn among landowners granting land-use permissions throughout Quebec. In 2015, the FCMQ enlisted the help of Yamaha Motors of Canada as an active partner in this program. The newly fashioned “Landowner appreciation program presented by Yamaha” creates a fund of $55,000 which is distributed via fifty-five $1000 gift vouchers redeemable for Yamaha products and vehicles at dealers throughout the province.