As snowmobile season begins, officials urge caution on trails

Area snowmobile clubs may not be grooming yet, but that's not stopping sledding enthusiasts from getting out where they can after last week's snow in northern Maine. &quotPeople are out playing on the rail beds," said Kathy Mazzuchelli, superintendent of parks and recreation in Caribou.
PHOTO SPECIAL TO THE NEWS BY JULIA BAYLY
Area snowmobile clubs may not be grooming yet, but that's not stopping sledding enthusiasts from getting out where they can after last week's snow in northern Maine. "People are out playing on the rail beds," said Kathy Mazzuchelli, superintendent of parks and recreation in Caribou.
By Julia Bayly, BDN Staff
Posted Dec. 12, 2009, at 4:03 p.m.

FORT KENT — Winter may be about a week away according to the calendar, but the recent snowfall has folks in northern Maine gearing up for seasonal activities.

“There’s nothing like a snowstorm to really get people wound up,” Gary Dumond of Fort Kent Ski Doo said Friday afternoon. “This is going to bring a lot of people out.”

Up to 10 inches of snow fell around the region Wednesday and Thursday, with the St. John Valley seeing the most accumulations.

The snow covered what had been unseasonably bare ground and, while promising for the winter season, Dumond is among those cautioning against trying to do too much too soon outdoors.

“The clubs aren’t out there grooming yet,” he said. “We need at least one more storm like this last one.”

With more than 2,300 miles of public-access snowmobile trails in Aroostook County, once those groomers are out there, snowmobilers have plenty to explore.

“It’s still a little early to be out there,” Kathy Mazzuchelli, superintendent of parks and recreation in Caribou, said Friday. “We got maybe 6½ to 8 inches of snow max here [and] the problem was we are getting 40-mile-per-hour wind so most of it has blown into New Brunswick.”

Like Dumond, Mazzuchelli said all it will take is one more good snowstorm for grooming operations to begin.

Until that happens, however, Mazzuchelli — who for years has been the voice of snowmobiling in northern Maine — urged riders to exercise restraint and common sense.

“People are out playing on the rail beds,” she said, “but ice is going to be a problem until we get a deep freeze.”

Higher-than-average temperatures coupled with heavy rains in November have created some potentially dangerous situations on area lakes and rivers, Mazzuchelli said.

“Just before the snow came the lakes had started to crust over,” she said. “Now the snow is covering it, but it’s not well-frozen.”

At the same time, windy conditions mean there is a good possibility of trees and other debris on woods trails.

“Sledders need to realize even with the 10 or so inches of snow we got the clubs have not been able to get out and clear the trails,” Mazzuchelli said.

While agricultural fields may look clear and inviting with a fresh layer of snow, Mazzuchelli warned against riding on any unmarked open space.

“Farmers may have equipment on the field hidden by the snow or irrigation practices in place,” she said. “We don’t want to see equipment damaged or people hurt.”

For early season riders Mazzuchelli said there are going to be some routing changes along ITS 90 from the Route 105 intersection into Portage because of logging.

“We are encouraging people to wait until we announce that section is open,” she said. “When it is open, we want people to please respect the landowners.”

That respect, Mazzuchelli said, is crucial.

“Our first responsibility is to the landowners and their property,” she said. “Sledders must pay attention to signs and stay on the marked trails.”

Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife spokeswoman Deborah Turcotte said the state had nine snowmobiling deaths last season, down from 12 the previous season. Maine’s all-time high was 16.

While helmets are not mandatory for adults, the state urges all riders to use them, Turcotte said. Riders also should use prudent speed on the trails and never drink before riding.

For those into nonmechanized winter sports, grooming efforts have begun at area ski clubs including the 10th Mountain Lodge in Fort Kent.

“We have about 3 kilometers in really good shape right now,” said Jeff Dubis, 10th Mountain Lodge club president. “We have other trails also groomed but will be a little rough until we get more snow.”

The cold weather is hardening the ground to make a good base for the state’s 13,500 miles of snowmobile trails, said Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association. Snowmobiling pumps $300 million into Maine’s economy, state officials said.

While Meyers would have preferred to see the cold come first and then the snow, “we’ll take whatever we get,” he said. “We’re mighty glad to see this stretch of cold weather.”

The forecast for northern Maine for the coming week is continued cold weather with snow Tuesday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

http://bangordailynews.com/2009/12/12/news/as-snowmobile-season-begins-officials-urge-caution-on-trails/ printed on November 27, 2014