Snowy weather not frightful for County snowmobilers

Posted Dec. 23, 2009, at 9:04 p.m.

Bangor residents dodged Mother Nature’s most recent winter blitz, but in extreme northern Maine, Fort Kent residents are digging out … and loving it.

“We’re buried,” Darlene Kelly Dumond said on Wednesday afternoon. “It’s like feast or famine up here, depending on what season we’re in. But everyone’s smiling and laughing.”

Dumond, the owner of Bee-Jay’s Tavern in downtown Fort Kent, said that the snow began at about 8 a.m. on Tuesday, and as of 2 p.m. on Wednesday, snow was still falling.

“We have 20 inches of snow [so far during this storm],” Dumond said. “We had 15 inches of snow at about 6 o’clock this morning. It hasn’t stopped, and it’s big, big flakes.”

That’s good news for snowmobile riders from across the region, who often head north to Aroostook County to enjoy the well-maintained trails there.

When the entire state gets snow, the parade northward isn’t so noticeable — sledders can stay home and ride their local trails. When portions of the state get new snowfall, riders in those areas trailer their sleds and go where the riding’s good.

That’s not really the case now … not yet. But after snowmobile club groomers get done their work (and the lakes and ponds freeze safely), northern Maine will likely be ready to welcome snowmobilers.

“[We had] four or five inches on the ground before this,” Dumond said. “We had enough that we were starting to see a few snowmobiles. But we were starting to get a little worried about our trails. The groomers will be going now. Thank God, because we need it.”

Dumond said the local businesses rely on the economic bump they get from the snowmobile riders, and townspeople are willing to put up the problems big storms cause because they know Fort Kent benefits in the long run.

“It’s hard for us to get around in today, but it’s what’s going to get us through the winter and sustain us through snowmobile season,” Dumond said.

And while activity in some more southern cities and towns might slow down during a large snowstorm, that’s not the case in Fort Kent, she said.

“You know what I think? I think the snow brings people out up here,” Dumond said. “It’s like a refreshing, cleansing thing. People come out to see what’s going on.”

And Dumond figures getting a big snowstorm just two days before Christmas isn’t too hard to take, either.

“It’s festive out here, even though it’s snowing,” she said. “We got our snow for Christmas. You don’t even have to wrap that present. That’s just the way we all seem to feel up here.”

Caution urged on Down East trail

As winter progresses and folks start looking for places to recreate, they’ll have 32 new miles of trails to utilize thanks to an ambitious state project.

The Down East Sunrise Trail in Washington County isn’t yet completed — 85 miles of the rail corridor eventually will be turned into gravel-based trails — but the first portion of that system was opened in October, according to a press release of the Department of Conservation’s Bureau of Parks and Lands.

The good news for winter sports enthusiasts: Although only 32 miles are ready for all-season access, much of the rest of the system can be used by the public as soon as substantial snow covers the unimproved trail.

A quick note that bears mentioning: Those who use the trails must be aware that much of the system is a work in progress. Caution is advised.

“We want people to enjoy the trail as it stands, but users must remember that the trail west of Machias isn’t finished and won’t be for some time,” said John Picher, the BPL’s director of engineering and realty, in a news release. “Those using the trail west of Machias need to ride with care.”

Of particular concern to the BPL: Snowmobilers, mushers, skiers and walkers must stay off the closed bridges on the trail until construction work is completed. Work is continuing on those bridges, and that work may be completed by the end of December.

According to the press release, the Down East Sunrise Trail is an effort to rehabilitate and preserve 85 miles of rail corridor for future rail use, as well as to provide a trail system for recreational use. The Maine Department of Transportation purchased the Calais Branch Corridor from Maine Central Railroad in 1987.

In October the first section of completed trail —from Route 1 in Machias and Ayers Junction in Pembroke — was opened for all-season use. The sections that have not been completed are designated for winter use only, but washouts and other hazards will exist.

The trail is designed for multiple uses, including cross country skiing, ATV riding and snowmobiling.

Parking lots have been constructed at Ayers Junction and Washington Junction, and more parking facilities will be built after the trail is finished, according to the BPL.

For more information, go to www.maine.gov/doc/parks/programs/snowmobile/suntrail.html.

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