Spring Riding a Blessing and A Curse!

Well as the old adage says…it ain’t over until the fat lady sings….and although she isn’t singing yet she sure has been humming loud!  At this juncture there is pocket riding for real sledders and locals.   The St John Valley has vestiges left especially in the Ft Kent, St. Francis, Allagash and Eagle Lake areas.   Beyond that the sun and rain last week ate away at fields and so with most folks interested in getting to the Long Lake area it is safe to say you can but you may  find some interesting snow conditions in some places…..but you won’t have a problem finding ice. 

And of course in the southern reaches of ITS 85 south of Ox Bow heading to Shin Pond and the northern Katahdin region you will find great conditions.  All those projects are out grooming and they are retaining a good snow pack.

Avid sledders are watching the weather as it looks like the Ides of March might be working to put one more significant snow storm out, ironically it will be around the first day of spring.  This will have mixed blessings.    For the snowmobiler it will be an extension to their season.  For the grooming projects it will create a problem and here is why.

The 2011-2012 season was a difficult season for everyone across the State as limited snowfall and unusually warm temperatures dropped the total snowmobile registrations by 30,000.  Now for the snowmobiler that might be great…..less traffic on their favorite trails….but for grooming projects who work the season not knowing what the revenues might be that come into the grant program that sustains them…it meant a significant loss of funding. ….15% to be exact.   Combine  the loss of funding with the ever rising cost of fuel and the ever increasing cost of purchasing and maintaining equipment and you have a disaster looming.

At the start of this season all grooming projects were told that they would start off with a 10% cut because there just wasn’t sufficient funding remaining in the project to cover anticipated expenses and the hope of recovering 30,000 registrations was unrealistic.  Wouldn’t you know we received snow early and everyone hit the ground grooming.   In all honesty, if we hadn’t had a thaw were we lost about 12 days of grooming, we all probably would have been out of money by the end of February…..our busiest time.

Now, when most projects have begun to pick up field markings and close out trails, March is looking at giving us more snow…..but here is the dilemma.  On March 14th most projects received a letter from the Department of Conservation indicating that this year registration numbers were a bit better than last year and the consensus of the Trail Fund Advisory Committee was to restore the 10% reduction on any grant that has exceeded their grant or will exceed it when they end their season.  Although this is great news it is has also placed pressure on projects to get their grant reimbursement applications in by April 15th which is more than a month ahead of the normal deadline.   Most projects have mixed feelings.

The whole trail grooming program is interesting.  In some instances municipalities help grooming projects with grant paperwork, funding groomers and offering fuel at municipal rates.  In other instances businesses who benefit from the snowmobile tourism actually do the grooming themselves for the club, while for most projects, the grooming is done by unpaid volunteers who, like you and I, work regular jobs, have to plow their yards after a storm and then climb into a groomer to groom trails.   These are the folks that have $8000 fuel bills to pay and $12000 groomer payments and have to raise their payments all on the backs of volunteers that make chicken stew, cook hot dogs, or raffle off quilts.  

According to the Maine Snowmobile Association, snowmobiling brings in about $350 million dollars to the state coffers based on a study conducted by the University of Southern Maine.  Unfortunately that multimillion dollar number has nothing to do with the hundreds of volunteers that make it happen.   The money that the grooming projects get isn’t from that $350 million pot it is from a portion of snowmobile registration fees and a small portion of the gas tax.   

Now I am not a political person…..doesn’t seem to get you anywhere…..but at this juncture in defense of those volunteers who donate countless hours of back breaking work, sometimes at their own expense,  I think it is fair to say that the snowmobile registration increase noted in LD 268 would go a long way to ease the burden on the volunteers that actually create a multimillion dollar industry for the State of Maine.    A registration fee isn’t a tax it is a voluntary purchase……it would be my choice to register my two sleds or not.   

So, as forecasters watch a storm possibly moving in for next week……..don’t be surprised if all projects don’t get out and groom.   The funds are drying up along with their enthusiasm.   What we all should do is thank them for working their magic this winter and keeping trails across The County in great shape despite a winter season that brought rain, big snows and big winds.    But then again….this is The County and I guess I wouldn’t expect anything less…………

Trail Report

Cautionary Notes

  • There is lots of water and lots of ice.   Despite cold temps, water is running across trails so low lying areas and fields will pose some problems.  You need to reduce speed because you never know where a problem area lies this time of year
  • Please….we have had tons of complaints from projects that sledders are not staying on marked fields, especially in field areas.  Remember riding is a privilege and not a right…..landowners are already threatening clubs they will not allow them back……I know to some they see an open field and think so what…..but it isn’t your land and it does matter….please if you ride here in The County respect our landowners and stay on marked trails.
  • Anywhere there was logging earlier this winter there is bare ground and mud now so it makes sense to rethink trying to hit any of those areas.
  • Rivers are open….please avoid them.   Lake routes still have pretty good ice but due to melting and warm temps the inlets are flowing pretty hard and will change ice conditions daily.

ITS 81 Up north pretty much gone pick and choose around Madawaska.  Shin Pond section into the northern Katahdin region ok

ITS 83  Railbeds sections are holding but field sections central and north are sparse.  Lots of water and ice so call ahead before you venture out.  Shin Pond into the Katahdin region is good although in town Millinocket and Medway you probably won’t get access but out of town and in higher elevations the sledding is still good.   From the central and northern regions you can still work your way to the eateries on Long Lake……just use caution.

ITS 85 Eagle Lake and Ft Kent were going to try and go out when it cooled off but south to Masardis from Ashland is mostly gone….but Ox Bow south to Shin Pond and Katahdin region is still in good shape with some good riding

ITS 86  Closed…

ITS 88  Done

ITS 90  No grooming.   Water holes.  Salmon Brook open.  East…snow gone.

ITS 92   Ft Kent, St Francis and Allagash were going to roll as it cooled down.  There is a good snow pack but you will run into a few bare spots but absolutely was passable Thursday.

ITS 105  Rideable between Washburn and Van Buren on the railbed but then you lose snow in fields.  Also you must watch out for water holes even on the railbeds especially in Stockholm.

Culinary Delights and Special Events

January – March.

The Washburn Clubhouse and the Meduxneakeag Ramblers clubhouse are open for breakfasts through the end of March snow or not. Meduxneakeag is open for breakfast Saturdays from 6-9 a.m. and Washburn is open Saturdays for breakfast and lunch from 7-2 and Sundays from 7-12.

Stew Nights at the Presque Isle Clubhouse on Fridays  through the end of March

Homed cook meals at the St Francis Clubhouse on Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

March 16

Ashland Snowmobile Club Annual Auction  5:00-6:30 supper/ 7:00 p.m. auction

March 17

Pleasant Ridge Runners Breakfast at the clubhouse 7-11 a.m. (so close to St Patty’s day maybe they will have green eggs and corned beef hash…..but we are not sure !)

Kathy Mazzuchelli

About Kathy Mazzuchelli

Kathy Mazzuchelli is superintendant of the Caribou Parks and Recreation Department where she has worked for 38 years. An avid snowmobiler, Mazzuchelli’s first sled was a 1968 Polaris Mustang back in the days when groomed trails were done with snowmobiles, bedsprings and some pretty feisty folks.