While looking at my Facebook account, I came across a post that I thought needed clarification.

The post was from a family who has a farm that produces strawberries, forage crops for cattle and grain crops including winter wheat. The post was about snowmobiles crisscrossing their snow-covered fields and potentially destroying their strawberry and winter wheat crops.

There were several responses agreeing and disagreeing about their concerns. Another issue came up about the legality of snowmobiles on private property. Again, many responses on this issue.

Geoff Southworth, who runs an online website titled Outdoor Troop, and his team of editors post articles on dedicated to activities that occur outdoors. He states “it is recommended you have 4 to 6 inches of snow on the ground for snowmobiling. Anything less than that and you could potentially damage parts of your snowmobile, which makes riding a risk.”

Based on the snow events we have had in the past week the snow depth should be acceptable for snowmobiling.

So, what about the concern for snowmobiles on private property? Ohio law defines a trespasser as a person who enters someone’s property for their own purposes without being authorized, invited, or induced to do so by the landowner or by the leaseholder, renter, occupant, or other person who has control over the property. Trespassing is a crime under Ohio law and can also be the basis of a civil lawsuit if there are damages that result from the trespass.

What is the landowner liability if a snowmobiler is harmed on his property? Ohio law also has an “attractive nuisance doctrine” adopted by the Ohio Supreme Court and later enacted by the Ohio Legislature that places a duty upon landowners to protect trespassers from any foreseeable, dangerous artificial conditions. These may include farm machinery, manure lagoons and fence posts.

To protect the landowner from trespassers, landowners need to install signs that establish clear boundary lines and can also warn trespassers about those dangerous conditions that you know could harm them. Under Ohio law, a landowner should post “no trespassing” signs “in a manner reasonably calculated to come to the attention of potential intruders.”

In other words, “no trespassing” or similar warning signs should be easy to see and read from a distance. Landowners should post signs in places where trespassers might enter the property and post warning signs where they provide sufficient notice about dangerous conditions on the property.

For more information on trespassing issues in Ohio refer to Ohio State University Extension Farm Office Premises Liability Law Library- The Do’s and Don’ts of Dealing with Trespassers on The Farm:

Snowmobiles might cause crop damage and trespassers may be held liable. What causes the crop damage, is the underlying soil conditions.

Snow is considered an insulator and has a R value. R value is the insulating material’s resistance to conductive heat flow that is measured or rated in terms of its thermal resistance. One inch of snow equals 1 R Value. So, 6 inches of snow on the ground has an insulating value of R6.

Before we received our 6-inch snow cover, we had a mild winter, and the ground was not frozen. The 6-inch snow cover is insulating the soil underneath keeping it in an unfrozen state. The strawberries and the winter wheat are now vulnerable to the destructive nature of a snowmobile that can lead to crop damage.

Nick Eckel, Ohio State University Wood County agricultural educator, mentioned what most of us do not realize when it comes to snowmobiles: was the ground frozen before the snow? Frozen ground protects winter wheat, holding the crowns and roots in place protecting the plants. Unfrozen ground, on the other hand, opens the door for damage.

There are 100 miles of groomed trails in Ohio for snowmobiling. Roads are open to snowmobiles if decided by local authorities only. Same rule applies for riding road shoulders or right of ways. Before riding on any municipal roadways, shoulders and or right of ways contact the governing authority in charge of the roads. To access the groomed trails in Ohio, refer to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources website: http://parks.ohiodnr.gov

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