Special Olympics winter games eagerly awaited

Posted Jan. 29, 2010, at 11 p.m.

According to Lisa Bird, the organizers and participants of Special Olympics Maine have a simple slogan that serves as their theme.

“We have no offseason,” the public relations director said on Friday.

After a brief pause, Bird laughed a bit at the thought, however. There may be no strict offseason for the athletic training and competition program, but there are a couple of times a year that are certainly “peak season.”

One of those — the state winter games — kicks off on Monday morning at Sugarloaf in Carrabassett Valley.

“Really, our two major events of the year are our winter state games and our summer state games,” Bird said. “[The athletes] spend so much time training for those events, it’s just a really special time of year for them.”

Athletes will gather at Sugarloaf throughout the day on Sunday, and competition will begin on Monday morning and run through Tuesday. Bird said about 500 athletes and about 400 volunteers and organizers will be at the venue for the 41st annual Maine winter games.

Maine was the first state to stage a winter Special Olympics, and Bird said the state organization has honed its approach over the years.

“We’ve got it down now,” Bird said. “After 41 years, it flows smoothly and nicely and we want to keep working with what we’ve got. It’s been such a success there’s been no need to add anything. I think everyone’s just looking forward to the competition.”

The competition is a major component of the winter games, and snowshoeing, downhill and cross country skiing and speed skating take center stage during the two days of races.

Add in recreational opportunities like snowmobile, snow cat and wagon rides, a parade, a dance and fireworks and the winter games are an event that athletes and coaches look forward to each year.

One great thing: The mood, Bird points out, is always upbeat.

“Everyone is so happy,” she said. “That’s why I love going. Everyone is happy, they want to be there, they’re excited to be there. Everyone’s in a good mood.”

After years of working at the winter games, Bird admits there’s one facet of the production that always amazes her.

“On Sunday night, Carrabassett Valley feeds us,” she said. “The community makes casseroles and desserts. It always overwhelms me to know that this tiny community feeds us. It’s the biggest community supper in the state.”

Record rainbow caught

Just a couple weeks after a state-record brook trout was confirmed by state biologists, another record fish has been announced.

This fish, however, isn’t nearly as fresh.

The Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife reported last week that Michael Thebarge of Skowhegan actually caught the 7-pound rainbow trout nearly a year ago — on Feb. 6, 2009 — while fishing on Lake George in Canaan.

Thebarge had his fish weighed on a certified scale at George’s Banana Stand in Skowhegan, and that was the end of the story.

Until, that is, a couple of weeks ago.

Thebarge, apparently curious about how his fish stacked up against the state’s rainbow trout record, contacted the DIF&W and the publishers of The Maine Sportsman, an outdoor newspaper that maintains the record books for the state.

As it turns out, Thebarge’s year-old fish story — with proper documentation — resulted in his rainbow trout being recognized as the record.

The previous state record was a 6.52-pounder caught by Madison’s Steven Day on June 5, 2007.

According to a DIF&W press release, Thebarge’s rainbow was a product of the department’s Casco hatchery. By studying the clipped fins on the fish, biologists determined that it was stocked as a fall yearling in 2004 and was six years old when it was caught.

Caution urged on Moosehead

Anglers will flock to the state’s largest lake this weekend for the third annual Moosehead Lake Togue Ice Fishing Derby with former NASCAR driver Ricky Craven.

One veteran water-watcher said those anglers would be wise to exercise caution on the big lake.

Earlier this week I contacted Craig Watt, the manager of the Indian Hill Trading Post in Greenville, who passed along an ice report for the massive lake.

“The [warm weather earlier this week] was unkind, but did not make Moosehead unfishable,” Watt said in an e-mail reply. “As you are aware, the lake was not completely safe before the rain. Ice depths varied from very thin to 12 inches or more in places. I fished last weekend and [had] from five inches to 16 inches of ice in the area I was.”

Watt said the age-old safety tips are still valid, and anglers should avoid certain areas that are always dangerous.

“What we need is for people to use common sense this weekend,” he wrote. “Inlets and outlets are probably not safe. The North Bay of the lake is an area I would avoid. Any place where there is a current should be treated with extreme caution. Ultimately, the best advice I can give is to check with the local people in the area you intend to fish.”

Watt explained that the size of the lake makes conditions variable from one end to the other.

“The lake is big and just because someone in Greenville says it’s safe does not mean the same is true of the next 30 miles of water,” Watt wrote. “As always, stay away from East and West Outlet, the mouth of the Moose River, Wiggins Stream, Mill Brook and anywhere that water comes into or flows out of Moosehead. Fishermen who plan to fish at night should be extra careful and make sure they have a safe path back to land, and can identify it clearly. Nighttime can be confusing on any lake.”

For anglers looking to head to Moosehead and take part in the derby, Watt said his store opens at 5:30 a.m. today to help provide any last-minute supplies, including tickets for the derby.

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