Snowmobiling in the Laurel Highlands

WINDBER – In a township filled with farms and woodland, it’s common to see snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles zipping down Ogle Township’s roads – sometimes faster than the cars and trucks the streets were built for, Ogle Township Chairman Harvey Weyandt Jr said.

The township is considering a law aimed at addressing the issue by making it legal for licensed riders to use the township roads.

“We already know people are running them on our roads – and that they’re doing it fast because they they don’t want to get caught,” he said.

“Hopefully, this will curtail that.”

It’s a move taken over the past year by a string of northern Somerset County communities.

And advocates for the plan are also hopeful the combined effort could create an economic impact in the year to come – much like a multi-county trail network in Clinton and Potter counties to the north.

Safety move

Members of the Beaverdale-based Scag Burners Snowmobile Club approached Ogle Township late last year about opening its secondary roads to mixed use traffic and the supervisors board voted to advertise their ordinance in early February.

Over the past six months, Indian Lake Borough, Shade Township and Stonycreek Township, Somerset County, all finalized their own laws.

“So far, we’ve seen nothing negative,” Shade Township Chairman Mike Muha said. “The positive thing is that when we see ATVs on our local roads, they are going a lot slower now.”

The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources provided signs that Shade Township’s road crew posted on secondary streets, notifying riders where they can – and cannot – ride, Muha said.

“On state roads, including Route 160,” he said. “they still cannot ride.”

Weyandt said Ogle Township patterned its ordinance after Shade’s law.

Riders must have a driver’s license, a helmet and be riding a state-registered ATV or snowmobile to access Ogle Township roads, he said.

“All of our roads are posted at 35 miles per hour, so that’s the speed they’ll have to obey,” Weyandt said.

‘Economic impact’

Ogle Township is home to Babcock State Park, which features nine miles of snowmobile trails near Ogletown.

If Ogle Township supervisors approve their mixed-use roadway ordinance, someone would be able to climb onto their snowmobile in their back yard and ride to the trails or use a mix of secondary and dirt roads and travel more than 20 miles south to Indian Lake and other spots.

“If Ogle Township goes through with it, that’ll connect our whole ridge for riders,” said Shaun Nemeth, an Indian Lake councilman who is also an active rider with several area snowmobile clubs.

The area can benefit from a steady stream of snowmobile riders, he said.

That’s because those who spend their days riding take breaks, too. They stop to refuel, grab a bite to eat at local restaurants and relax, Nemeth said.

Those who make weekend trips pay for lodging, too.

Nemeth noted that the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources continues surveying state property to add more trail miles and that could open up more opportunities, he added.

He pointed to a recent report that snowmobile recreation and tourism injects $600 million into Maine’s economy and “the (cross-state) Hatfield-McCoy Trail in West Virginia draws thousands of people,” Nemeth said.

That type of impact wouldn’t happen here overnight, he acknowledged.

“But it could make a difference here, too,” he said.

Ogle Township is scheduled to vote on its ordinance March 2.

David Hurst is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at (814) 532-5053. Follow him on Twitter @TDDavidHurst and Instagram @TDDavidHurst.

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