Wanted: Willing volunteers for trail work

Posted Oct. 29, 2010, at 9:41 a.m.

Maine snowmobiling needs you, on the trail and in the clubhouse.

“Snowmobilers enjoy a sport [that is] based on the efforts of a small number of volunteers,” says Maine Snowmobile Association President Ken Ingalls.

“If it weren’t for the volunteers, trails wouldn’t be groomed,” he explains during a telephone interview. “There are tens of thousands of people out there riding on the trails, and all of the clubs could use more volunteers to help get the work done.

“I really think that if you’re going to ride, you can volunteer in some way, even just by joining a club,” says Ingalls, a retired Embden paperworker who belongs to the Anson-North Anson Snowmobile Club and the Embden Travelers Snowmobile Club.

The MSA “works hard” to boost club-recruiting efforts, according to Ingalls. The MSA mails its newspaper, The Maine Snowmobiler, to all snowmobile registrants in Maine; every issue includes ads urging snowmobilers to join a local club. More than 290 snowmobile clubs belong to the MSA; their members axiomatically do, too.

Ingalls indicates that “I want to grow the clubs as well as grow the MSA,” which has some 30,000 members. Membership Committee Chair Phyllis Ouellette of Auburn leads current efforts to boost MSA membership; “she’s young, and that’s what we need,” Ingalls says. “Young people are busy with their families, but the clubs throughout the state need their memberships.

“Snowmobilers need a voice, not only in Augusta, but all across Maine,” he says. “We can be that voice. In order to do that, we need the members.”

New Hampshire boosts club membership by requiring a snowmobiler “to belong to a club in order for you to register a snowmobile,” Ingalls says. “This would not work in Maine. Club membership should be voluntary, not something you’re told to do.”

He encourages Maine snowmobilers to register their sleds, even if early winter weather lacks promise. “The more registrations there are, the more money that’s available for trails and maintenance,” he explains. Sled registration funds are disbursed by the Maine Department of Conservation as club and municipal grants.

Winter 2010 saw sled registrations drop as unseasonably warm weather started melting many trails by mid-February. However, “the people that did register their machines paid a little extra,” so revenue actually rose, Ingalls says. “The trail funds really weren’t hurt because the clubs did less grooming.”

He crosses his fingers and hopes “for really good riding conditions this winter.” Although the MSA has printed its 2010-11 trail map, Ingalls cautions that “things can change on the ground [even] after we go to press.”

Ingalls explains that “the toughest issue [in creating accurate maps] is that some clubs don’t know until mid-October or November where their trails are going to be.” Logging operations “can close trails in winter, and the clubs have to re-route those trails,” he says. “It does create a last-minute rush for the club members to get that accomplished.”

According to Ingalls, the MSA has joined the Maine Sustainable Forestry Initiative. “They’re working on woodlands, and that’s where a lot of our trails are,” he says. “They do best-management practices (BMP) in building their roads and bridges; it’s good for us to learn how to do that the best way, too.

“We put in bridges for snowmobile trails,” Ingalls says. “Partnering with them allows us to do it right.”

In September 2010, MSA representatives attended “a pilot program” offered by the Maine Sustainable Forestry Initiative at Titcomb Mountain ski area in West Farmington, Ingalls says. “They were teaching us [about] water quality, how to keep streams clean if we were putting in bridges and culverts, how to do it using BMP techniques.”

The Maine Snowmobile Association has also joined the Small Woodlot Owners Association of Maine. “A lot of our trails are on small wood lots,” Ingalls points out. “Without landowners, there would be no trail system. The landowners are the key. We value our landowners.”

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