MADAWASKA, Maine — Organizers are hoping 13 is their lucky number as they gear up for the 13th annual International Snowmobile Festival scheduled for Friday to Sunday, Feb. 6-8.
Though attendance has been down the last couple of years, officials are encouraged by an increase in preregistrations this year.
“In the weeks leading up to the festival we usually get 20 or 25 preregistrations,” Jean Ouellette, festival chairperson, said. “Right now we have about 100.”
That puts Ouellette and her committee well on the way to their goal of attracting 500 snowmobile enthusiasts to the St. John Valley next weekend.
Central to the event’s long-term popularity has been an annual reciprocity agreement between Maine, Quebec and New Brunswick in which participants purchase a special three-day pass allowing them access to trails on both sides of the border.
“Normally to ride across [in Canada] for a weekend you are looking at $100,” Ouellette said. “This is really a great deal.”
The pass includes admission to the festival’s spaghetti supper and dance Friday evening.
In all, nearly 600 miles in trails have been designated part of the festival with loops ranging from 95 to 200 miles taking sledders from Madawaska north to Kedgwick, New Brunswick, west to Fort Kent, east to Grand Falls, New Brunswick, and south to Caribou.
“We made a few changes from past years and added some new loops,” Ouellette said. “We hope by doing so we attract back some people who would want to try some new trails.”
The St. John Valley has long relied on the winter in-migration of visiting snowmobilers for a seasonal economic boost.
This year, the combination of good snow conditions in southern Maine and a downturn in the economy have resulted in fewer out-of-town snowmobilers making the trek north.
Ouellette, the owner of Martin’s Motel in Madawaska, said her crew is hoping the festival helps bring those numbers up.
“We’ve seen a decrease in the numbers of snowmobiles coming through this year,” she said. “We know people are cutting back on luxuries like snowmobiling, but we hope many have saved up for this weekend [and] we are optimistic it will be a good weekend.”
Mother Nature appears to be doing its part with area temperatures expected to range into the low 20s with scattered snow showers.
“The trails are looking awesome,” Ouellette said. “And anyone coming can pretty much expect a top-notch welcome and great hospitality.”
The event kicks off Friday afternoon with a social at 4:30 followed by the opening ceremonies at 6 p.m. with fireworks.
A moonlight drag race is on tap for Saturday with a special snowmobilers’ breakfast wrapping things up on Sunday.
A complete schedule and information are available online at www.isfim.net or by calling Ouellette at 728-3395 or the Madawaska Chamber of Commerce at 728-7000.