AUBURN | The Cayuga County Sheriff's Office plans to have more of a presence on trails this winter with hopes that snowmobile operators will be more safe and law-abiding.

The sheriff's office released an announcement Monday about its improved Snowmobile Unit, which consists of seven members, three snowmobiles, a trailer and new safety and cold-weather gear.

Lt. Michael J. Wellauer said there has always been some equipment for a snowmobile unit, but there has only been one snowmobile, not as many trained personnel and not a lot of equipment.

"We've had snowmobiles and people that operate them in the past, but we've been gearing up over the last few years," he said. "It's kind of been a piecemeal thing we've been working on."

With the new equipment and trained personnel, the unit will be more consistent with patrols on the trails, which traverse the county and are managed by seven snowmobile clubs.

"We're going to be out there patrolling the trails to make sure people are operating their snowmobiles safely," Wellauer said.

The new gear was purchased using grant money from the Operation Stonegarden Program, which is funded by money from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Authority, according to the sheriff's office press release.

Because the grant is related to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Cayuga County Sheriff's Office Snowmobile Unit will be expected to spend part of its time on the trails working with the U.S. Border Patrol in the town of Sterling, the northernmost part of the county along the coast of Lake Ontario, Wellauer said.

Wellauer said the increased officer presence will help ensure that snowmobile drivers are following the laws.

"Snowmobile clubs have been asking for us for a number of years because they maintain and insure the trails," Wellauer said.

Mike Paton, president of the Port Byron Snow Panthers snowmobile club, said he has been looking forward to having officers on the trails more regularly, as there are sometimes snowmobile drivers who break the laws, trespass on private land and put the hobby at risk for others.

"There are too many snowmobilers out there riding illegally, without a registration, with modified exhaust (pipes), off the trails or riding at excessive speeds," Paton said. "All of these things put our trails at risk of being shut down. ... Every year, we fight just to keep our trails open and try to pacify landowners."

Staff writer Kelly Voll can be reached at 282-2239 or kelly.voll@lee.net. Follow her on Twitter at CitizenVoll.

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