Saturday, January 27, 2007

Best Snowmobile Rally Yet

Prairie Place Hall was packed when I left around 4 p.m. More tables were being squeezed in for riders coming in off the trail. I heard that there were 500 riders registered - the largest turnout yet. Grace told me the snow was good and deep, even out on the fields where some has blown off, and the sloughs have nice deep powder. All in all, the Arcola Optimists' Snowmobile Rally looked like a great success compared to last year.

I was at the hall to clear tables on behalf of the Girl Guides (since my daughter is a Pathfinder). We parents donate our time clearing tables, and the Girl Guide organization gets bags and bags of empty beer cans to turn in for the refund money. It's their biggest fundraiser, and it also looks good for the Girl Guides to be doing a recycling project.

But for me, it always rankles a bit. This time I was determined to enjoy it as best I could, so I looked for familiar faces and went visiting in between my rounds of the tables. Having some fun helped me ignore the loud music and the great show of consumption in all those shiny helmets on the tables and gaudy single-purpose jackets draped on the chairs.

When I got home though, I went looking for information about snowmobile fuel consumption. I learned something: those figures are hard to find. Of the four major manufacturers, only one bothered to back up their claims of "solid" or "excellent" fuel economy with an actual figure. Bombardier (Ski-Doo), headquartered in Canada, offered a comparison chart showing its 600 cc class engines (the smallest engines offered) on par with a Yamaha model at about 22 or 23 mpg, while Arctic Cat and Polaris models in the same class trailed behind at 18 mpg or less. Of course, for the larger engines, there were no numbers given, just claims of "outstanding" or "incredible" fuel economy. The general silence is not surprising, I suppose; when your smallest, newest, most fuel-efficient snow machine carries a single rider less than half as many miles per gallon as our ten-year-old four-passenger car, you don't have much to brag about.

Now for some rough estimates. Five hundred riders - I wonder if that means 500 sleds, or were some people riding double? Sixty-eight miles of trail - did they all do the full 68 miles, or were there shorter loops as options? Well, I'll be friendly and assume that 400 sleds travelled an average of 50 miles each. That's - gulp - 20,000 sled miles. Even with a ridiculously friendly estimate of 20 miles per gallon on average, that's 1000 gallons of gas. And then there's all the fuel used hauling those sleds and riders into Arcola from far and wide.

Well, if they're buying some of that gas at the Co-op, it means membership dividend money in my own pocket. The event brings in funds for the hall, and the local grocery stores get to supply food for it, and I suppose business picks up around town over the weekend. Do I dare complain?

On the other hand, isn't it a bit ironic that the Arcola Girl Guides pride themselves on the environmental benefits of their recycling program, when this gas-guzzling event is such a big part of it?

I wonder. Could we take all the effort that goes into this event, and spread it over the year, providing small entertainment events to help keep Arcola residents here in town, weekend after weekend? As it is, dozens of people go off to the cities for entertainment every weekend, and do their shopping while they're there. Then our service clubs and businesses get together and try to draw a big crowd out here for one weekend to compensate. Is this the best we can do for our town, and for our world?


Deb said...

At first I had some cognitive dissonance going on..."Laura's writing about a successful snowmobile rally?!"...but then I read on to your thoughtful analysis. I agree, and I like your idea of having some small, local entertainment events throughout the year.

It makes me wonder about the agency I work for, which on one hand claims to be concerned about our environment, and on the other hand promotes snowmobiling and ATV riding as recreation.

arcolaura said...

I wonder, too, Deb. As I was searching for figures on fuel consumption, I came across arguments about snowmobile effects on wildlife. I can see the point that a snowmobile may actually create less disturbance than a hiker or a skier. I've noticed that cattle are much more likely to spook if I'm on foot than if I'm riding an ATV. But I also suspect that the studies and arguments are used somewhat selectively. Are the effects on deer a good representation of effects on wildlife in general? A snowmobile riding over a cushion of snow may do less harm to vegetation than a hiker, but does it really do less than a skier? Is it appropriate to compare snowmobile and ATV noise to the average noise level in a campground - can't we do better than that? And how much do these motorized recreational vehicles extend the reach and intensify the pressure of human activity in areas that would otherwise be remote from our constant commotion? From what I've seen, ski trails in our parks get heavy use only on the shorter loops close to the access point, whereas snowmobiles go wherever the trails will take them.

The pressure on protected areas just keeps going up. In this context, it's not surprising that people advance arguments supporting their own favourite mode of access - for instance, suggesting that snowmobiling is better for wildlife than skiing. But if we're serious about protecting some areas, then I think we need to face the fact that there is a limit to the amount of access we can give/take. It doesn't matter how lightly we tread, if we tread there in the thousands, we'll pack the ground and kill the grass and drive away the wild things. Maybe we need to pull back to a wider view, and look for ways to enjoy nature in more everyday environments close to home so we don't have to go thronging to the parks.

Deb said...

Laura- exactly. What disturbs me is that within my agency there has been an internal review process about what state forest areas should be open to (gas guzzling) ATV use. In my local area they would not even listen to arguments against having a trail cut through a very rare old growth forest. Like the people riding would appreciate something like that...And, there have even been unexplained "early retirements" or resignations of wildlife managers who have dared speak out against ATV trail development. I see what you'd be up against, on a local level, if you spoke out about the concerns you have with the snowmobile rally. I just don't know where or how to begin to change the public mindset.

arcolaura said...

Hmmm - some disturbing points you make there, Deb. Perhaps part of changing the public mindset is just letting people know what really goes on. But if those who talk are walked to the door, then what? I come back to the idea that we need more local talk and action, and less reliance on authorities to do the environmental protection for us. I guess I need to get talking to my neighbours, not just typing on this blog.