When winter sets in, outdoor recreation like snowmobiling and hunting brings visitors to rural New York. But in addition to the people they bring to the state’s farms and privately owned land, those recreational activities can create specific, unique liabilities for rural and farm landowners.

Rural outdoor recreation is big in the Empire State

Hunting and snowmobiling are huge in rural New York. But snowmobiling is king; it has a statewide economic impact of $868 million every year, with as many as 115,000 snowmobilers spending an average of 22 days on the state’s network of 10,000 miles of trails. Many of those trails pass through private property like farmland. While landowners allow access to hunters or snowmobile club members, those visitors bear the responsibility for respecting private property rights in return for continued trail and land access.

“Snowmobiling clubs maintain trails and have contracts on the land they cross that spell out what members can and can't do. The landowner has the right to break the contract if terms are enforced,” according to Jacquie Lunser Hodges of Lunser Insurance Agency in East Aurora, New York. “I have one client who makes his own tags and requires hunters to have one to show they have permission to hunt deer on his land."

Ways to help minimize liability on your land

Ensuring both landowner and visitor has the right coverage in place is the first step. “I would make sure you are always giving visitors permission, they have insurance and can give you proof,” Hodges said. “If a snowmobiling club is operating a trail on your land, make sure it’s insured and riders are required to maintain insurance.”

Beyond insurance, landowners can take other actions to minimize liability when visitors are on their land, including:

  • Define boundaries. Keep visitors contained to permitted areas. This includes limiting access to potential hazards and attractive farm nuisances.
  • Post warning signs. No Hunting and Stay on Trail signs are just two types of warning sign that can help alert visitors where they can and can’t go on your land. Always match signage to the specific activity.
  • Create written agreements. A well-written, signed agreement helps both inform the visitor of his or her obligations and what’s allowed and prohibited on your land. Always consult your legal representation in drafting a contract or written agreement so it is legally binding.
  • Monitor your land. Check your land regularly to ensure visitors are abiding by the rules you’ve created. Add monitoring tools like security cameras to help keep an eye on your land to ensure visitors follow agreed-upon terms.
  • Communicate with visitors early and often. This will ensure you have a good idea of what’s happening on your land and that your visitors are following terms of your agreement.
  • Talk with your agent. Never assume your farm insurance policy covers such activities. Talk with your trusted farm agent to ensure you have the proper coverage and limits in place.

Get more on minimizing farmland liabilities with winter recreation

The New York State Snowmobile Association offers helpful links ranging from snowmobiling guides to club membership information and registration. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has information on hunting regulations and how to prevent conflicts between hunters and landowners.

Find more information on managing farmland liabilities. Confirm with your Nationwide Farm Certified agent that you’re protected from winter recreation liabilities.

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