Reno Snowmobile Festival Draws Criticism

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Snowmobilers and environmentalists are clashing over a new national snowmobile festival designed to promote the Reno-Tahoe area as "America's Adventure Place."

Snowmobilers say Sledfest 2004, which ends a four-day run Sunday in Reno, is in line with local tourism officials' efforts to promote the region as an outdoor adventure destination.

But Gail Ferrell of the Snowland Network, an advocacy group for non-motorized winter sports such as cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, said the event promotes a noisy, environmentally harmful sport.

She expressed her concerns in a March 30 letter to Jeff Beckelman, president and chief executive officer of the Reno-Sparks Convention & Visitors Authority.

"This isn't the type of image Reno-Sparks should be promoting," Ferrell said, adding promotional efforts should focus on quieter forms of recreation such as river rafting, skiing, bicycling and horseback riding.

Sledfest also could worsen a problem of snowmobiles venturing into federal wilderness areas and other prohibited locations in the Lake Tahoe area, she said.

"Bringing motorized recreation here is really going to open up a Pandora's box of problems," said Ferrell, who organized a successful drive to ban snowmobiles from most of the popular Tahoe Meadows above Tahoe's northeast shore.

But Wayne Fischer of the California-Nevada Snowmobile Association branded as selfish the Snowland Network's criticism of the festival.

"They feel their way is the only way," Fischer told the Reno Gazette-Journal. "I guess I resent the fact they're trying to force their form of recreation on everyone else."

Sledfest fits in with outdoor marketing efforts being pursued by local and state tourism officials, Fischer added.

"We're the Western adventure land," he said.

Citing ongoing controversy over snowmobile use in Yellowstone National Park, James McKimm of Rock Springs, Wyo., said he's tired of attacks on his sport.

"I don't like none of it," he said. "It's public land. It should be for public use."

Local tourism officials have hailed Sledfest as one of several new events designed to promote the region as America's Adventure Place.

The festival features a trade show in Reno and riding in the nearby Sierra Nevada.

"It is the perfect way for snowmobilers to wrap up their season and enjoy one of the most scenic and entertaining playgrounds in all of North America," said Deanna Ashby, RSCVA marketing director.