MADAWASKA, Maine — Visitors driving down Main Street would have had a hard time telling that a major international snowmobile festival was going on around them this weekend — and organizers couldn’t have been more pleased.
“There’s a lot to do here but we want them all out riding the trails,” said Steve Hughes of the Greater Madawaska Chamber of Commerce on Saturday afternoon. “The weather is great. It’s warm. And all the clubs put in extra grooming time.”
More than 300 riders had registered for the 13th annual International Snowmobile Festival by Saturday morning and most spent the day riding 600 miles of trails through Maine, New Brunswick and Quebec.
Central to the event’s long-term popularity has been an annual reciprocity agreement among Maine, Quebec and New Brunswick in which participants buy a three-day pass for $30 from the International Snowmobile Festival Committee. That allows them access to trails on both sides of the border.
“Normally to ride across [in Canada] for a weekend you are looking at $100,” said Jean Ouellette, festival chairperson. “This is really a great deal.”
A great deal for Gaeten Belanger and his friends and family, all from Edmundston, New Brunswick.
“I have a regular pass to ride on both sides of the border, but this weekend they all got the pass so we could ride together,” Belanger said as the group took a break from riding to have lunch at Rosette’s Restaurant in Frenchville.
“I really like to ride and the trails are really good over here,” said Belanger’s friend Jean Landry.
“So far, so good,” Ouellette said of the festival, which began Friday and wrapped up Sunday.
In addition to the trail access, participants took part in a supper, dance, moonlight drag racing and breakfast in venues on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border.
“A lot of the people who came are ones who come every year,” Ouellette said. “This year we expanded our advertising, [and] it must have worked because we’ve seen people from as far away as South Carolina.”
The festival promotes not only the Madawaska area, Hughes said, but the network of snowmobile trails in northern Maine.
“It’s an opportunity for people to come up and ride on Aroostook County trails,” Hughes said. “What’s nice are the repeat visitors we see.”
Among those were David Simonu and Doug Lohman from Mansfield, Conn.
“I come every year,” Simonu said. “The trails are great and the people are nice.”
The two men said the time spent driving north to snowmobile in northern Maine is well worth it, given the lack of opportunities in their home state.
“You can ride in the parks there,” Lohman said. “Two miles in one, 8 miles in another, and never more than 20 miles per hour on ungroomed trails just about one snowmobile wide.”
That’s in stark contrast to the thousands of miles of well-groomed and accessible trails in Maine.
“We really respect and appreciate the landowners here who let us ride on those trails,” Simonu said. “I’m staying up in Aroostook County for two weeks and I don’t want to leave.”
Such sentiments are music to Hughes’ ears.
“That’s what we hope happens,” he said. “We want people to come back, and not just for the snowmobile festival but in the summer, too, when it’s a bit warmer.”