The annual NH free snowmobile weekend, in which snowmobiles registered in Vermont, Maine and New Hampshire could ride in any of those three states, has come to an abrupt halt due to last minute changes by administrators in VT and ME, which were not communicated to NH.
History of Tri-State Reciprocity
Through the efforts and hard work of several people here in NH, to include Chris Gamache, Gail Hanson, Tim Acerno, and John Wimsatt, all of whom worked closely with our neighboring states, NH enacted a law that established the Vermont/New Hampshire reciprocal snowmobile weekend in 2010. Reciprocity with Maine for the special weekend was added in 2011. Since that time snowmobile enthusiasts have been able to explore new trails across northern New England during the last weekend in January under a single snowmobile registration. That weekend became known as the annual Tri-State Reciprocity weekend where snowmobiles registered in Vermont, Maine, or New Hampshire were legal to ride in any of the three states.
NH Free Snowmobile Weekend Rules
New Hampshire’s law (RSA 215-C:47) requires that in order for Vermont or Maine registered snowmobiles to operate in NH with their respective registrations, NH-registered snowmobiles must be allowed to operate in those states during the same time period. NH must put into its Administrative Rules the exact weekend, which all three states agreed would be the last weekend in January. Once in Rule, it cannot be changed without going through a lengthy legislative process.
No Warning of Changes
This weekend was one of the highlights of the winter for many resident and non-resident riders throughout the three states for close to a decade. Sometime around November of 2017, I began to hear rumors that Maine was considering changing their free weekend to one in February. I reached out to the folks in Maine and Vermont reminding them that any changes to the date would effectively end reciprocity in NH and the Tri-State weekend. They informed me that they had no intention of changing the January dates and Tri-State weekend went off without a hitch in 2018.
In May of 2018, NHF&G had to renew the Administrative Rules governing snowmobile and OHRV laws. Again, I reached out to Vermont and Maine, this time informing them that if they had any plans of changing their free weekend dates, now would be the time to tell me as our Rules were being renewed and I could easily make changes to keep Tri-State weekend intact. They again informed me that they had no intentions of changing the January date. NH’s Administrative Rules were renewed and finalized in July 2018, making sure to keep the last weekend in January as the reciprocal weekend.
Maine and Vermont Change Program Without Communication
Then, on September 25, 2018, an online post was forwarded to me showing that Maine had just announced their free weekend for the 2019 season and it had indeed changed to a weekend in February. I immediately reached out to Vermont to make sure they did not make a similar change without any communication. Lo and behold, Vermont made the same change! I was shocked. I checked with NH Bureau of Trails and NHSA to see if they were aware. They had no idea and had received no communication.
These last-minute changes by Vermont and Maine, without any communication with NH, effectively ended any chance at a Tri-State weekend. It is unfortunate that this has happened but more importantly it undermines the hard work and relationships that so many people worked so hard to build. We here in NH could have easily accommodated changing the dates if only Vermont and Maine communicated with us and let us know, especially since I asked… twice!
So, why the total lack of communication from partners we have had for nearly a decade? It appears that the Vermont Association of Snow Travelers was more concerned about attracting riders from New York and Pennsylvania and apparently had no interest in continuing a relationship with NH. Maine, it appears, had the same intentions with Canadian Provinces.
NH Snowmobilers Continue to Ride Free in VT and ME
The bottom line is NH-registered snowmobiles can ride free in Vermont or Maine on February 1-3, 2019. Unfortunately, however, any Vermont or Maine registered sleds must register in NH if they wish to ride – even on the last weekend in January.
Future of Free Weekend
The question going forward is, does NH want to create a free weekend where out-of-state registered snowmobiles can ride here? Is the benefit worth the costs? Costs being the added time and expense of grooming trails that will be heavily used, extra enforcement, and increased accident investigations (an inevitable by-product of a busy riding weekend). The concept of reciprocity where riders can make day trips and explore new trails and areas without worrying about borders is apparently gone as free weekends by individual states have no guarantee of falling on the same weekend, especially since some states have forgotten how to communicate!