Snowmobilers will have one less place to ride legally now that Marlborough has banned them from the only conservation land on which they were still allowed.
''There's really no significant areas where you can snowmobile now," said Dick Wolfe, a 70-year-old member of the Easy Riders Snowmobile Club of Marlborough. ''It's closing in on us and forcing us out."
Snowmobilers are feeling the squeeze in many Central Massachusetts cities and towns because of fast-growing commercial development of open land and increasing municipal restrictions on uses for open space. Next door to Marlborough, the town of Hudson has no rules restricting snowmobiles on locally owned conservation land. Many other communities, however, such as Framingham and Sudbury, have banned motorized vehicles from conservation areas. In Sudbury, the vehicles have been banned for about 20 years, according to Debbie Dineen, the town's conservation agent.
Dineen said a fatal incident involving a snowmobiler in the 1980s led to the ban.
Conservation land was saved for ''passive recreational use," not for snowmobiles or their cousins, all-terrain vehicles and motor bikes.
''It's for wildlife and habitat protection," she said. ''We don't feel it's compatible with that type of use."
In Marlborough, the situation recently came to a head when a snowshoeing group encountered a speeding snowmobiler in the Desert Natural Area, a 615-acre parcel off Concord Road named for its sandy terrain.
Marlborough resident Joe Delano said he was snowshoeing on a secluded trail with his wife, another couple, and his dog, Homer, a few weeks ago when the group heard the engine of an approaching snowmobile. Delano said the group was trekking single-file along the narrow trail through a dense stretch of pine forest and wasn't sure the driver could see them. They began waving their arms and shouting.
The driver was able to put on the brakes, stopping just 4 feet from the group, Delano said. Angry words were exchanged before the driver turned his snowmobile around and sped off.
''It was such an incredibly dangerous thing; it was upsetting," Delano said.
In January, a South Lawrence teenager was killed when his snowmobile collided with another on a trail in Andover.
Delano, a financial adviser who is also a member of the Marlborough School Committee, wrote a letter to the Conservation Commission, asking them to enact a ban.
The Commission held a public hearing on Feb. 3.
Commissioner Lawrence Roy said only three people showed up for the hearing, and no one spoke out against the proposal to restrict snowmobiles. The measure was passed unanimously with an agreement to review the restrictions annually.
Roy said he personally knows many snowmobilers in the area and, on a recent visit to the Marlborough Fish & Game Club, he encouraged them to attend. Ten years ago, the local snowmobile club actively lobbied to keep Desert Natural Area as the only conservation land left open to snowmobilers.
But Roy, who has been on the commission for more than 20 years, said many snowmobilers in the group are aging, and commercial development has broken up a natural connection of trails in and around Marlborough and Sudbury, despite the restrictions.
''Now you've got backyards and front yards you've got to contend with," he said. ''A lot of these areas are closed out . . . and people don't have the freedoms they once had."
Enforcement will be left to Conservation Commission officials and the State Police, Roy said. The commission already has posted new signs announcing the change, which was effective immediately.
Megan Woolhouse can be reached at 508 820-4296 or firstname.lastname@example.org.