The director of the city of Kenai's Parks and Recreation Department will be channeling renewed energy to the attempt to keep snowmachiners off the Kenai Nordic Trails this winter.
Bob Frates said increased signs, increased enforcement by police and public education will be the main prongs of the plan to keep snowmachiners off the trails, which are located on the Kenai Golf Course along Lawton Drive and have been groomed by the city and volunteers since 1996.
In that time, Frates said snowmachiners have caused constant problems at the trails and constant work for those groomers trying to keep the snow smooth.
"I don't have a number figure, nor an hour figure, but it's a huge, huge amount of extra hours we put into it," Frates said. "Just going back on past experience, (a snowmachiner rides on the trails) almost daily.
"After any major snowfall, their usage goes way up."
Frates said he has tried signs, police enforcement and public education in the past. He said the number of snowmachiners vandalizing the trails has probably decreased, but that the damage has stayed the same since it only takes a small number of offenders to destroy the trail.
Sgt. Chuck Kopp of the Kenai Police Department said there will be an increased police presence on Lawton Drive this year. Kenai police officers already issued several citations to snowmachiners on Lawton Drive Tuesday.
"We write them every year, it's just a matter of this year we're trying to make an effort to be more visible on Lawton Drive," Kopp said. "It can become quite an expressway for snowmachines.
"Residents, understandably, get upset when a snowmachine goes by at 75 (mph) in a 25 zone."
Kenai city ordinance puts the following restrictions on snowmachiners:
n Riding on playgrounds, groomed ski trails, city parks, roads, sidewalks, bike trails or walking paths is illegal. Roads, sidewalks, bike trails or walking paths can be crossed, but a rider must come to a complete stop and take the most direct route across.
n Riders under 18 must wear a helmet.
n Riders on private property must have the owner's permission.
n There is a speed limit of 10 mph in the right of way of a business or residential area, near people or in a parking lot.
In addition, police remind riders that their machines must be registered at the state Department of Motor Vehicles and they must stay away from wildlife.
Violators of city ordinances can be cited up to $300. If the violator is a child, Kopp said the parent is ultimately responsible for the fine and will be required to appear with the child in court.
Kopp added that any snowmachiner failing to stop for the flashing lights of an officer is guilty of eluding the officer. This can be a class A misdemeanor, punishable by fines up to $5,000 and up to one year in prison, or a class C felony, punishable by fines up to $50,000 and up to five years in prison.
According to Kopp, the increased presence will benefit the ski trails and help keep snowmachiners safe.
"Our main concern is young people," Kopp said. "You can't get a driver's permit until you're 14, then law requires that a person who has been validly licensed for three years is in the vehicle with you.
"With snowmachines, you have a situation where a child 8 or 9 years old is driving a 100 horsepower-plus snowmachine at an extremely high rate of speed on a residential street. It's a big safety concern."
Kopp said citizens can be a big help in keeping snowmachiners from riding on ski trails and performing dangerous acts in residential areas. He said any violation of city ordinance should be reported to police at 283-7879.
In addition to the increased enforcement, Frates said signs telling snowmachiners to stay off trails are being put up both on Lawton Drive and on all critical access points to the trails.
Finally, Frates has been picking up public education. He and those associated with ski teams have been making announcements in Kenai schools telling snowmachiners to stay off the ski trails. Frates would like to get the message on area radio stations, and he also plans on enlisting the help of the Caribou Cabin Hoppers Snowmachine Club, which maintains trails in the Caribou Hills, to distribute information.
"What it boils down to is respect, and respect of private property," Frates said. "Users should know what the rules and regulations are governing the use of equipment, whether it's Soldotna, Kenai or wherever they're riding."
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