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Maintenace crews hit the trails before the snowsledders do

Posted Dec. 26, 2012, at 10:14 a.m.
During a recent &quotTouch-A-Truck" event held at the Cole Land Transportation Museum in Bangor, visitors examine the Tucker Groomer belonging to the Penobscot Snowmobile Club in Hermon.
During a recent "Touch-A-Truck" event held at the Cole Land Transportation Museum in Bangor, visitors examine the Tucker Groomer belonging to the Penobscot Snowmobile Club in Hermon.
Maryann Janusz of the Airline Riders Snowmobile Club sets a chain around the poles that must be lifted and set in place for a bridge being built across Tom's Brook in Township 34 in Hancock County. The bridge was for a multipurpose recreational trail to be used by snowmobilers in winter and ATVers in summer. Janusz and her husband, Frank, own the Airline Snack Bar on Route 9.
Frank Janusz
Maryann Janusz of the Airline Riders Snowmobile Club sets a chain around the poles that must be lifted and set in place for a bridge being built across Tom's Brook in Township 34 in Hancock County. The bridge was for a multipurpose recreational trail to be used by snowmobilers in winter and ATVers in summer. Janusz and her husband, Frank, own the Airline Snack Bar on Route 9.
Volunteers from central Aroostook County snowmobile clubs and ATV clubs use heavy equipment to remove the weather-worn deck of a former railroad trestle spanning a stream in Stockholm. Timbers for a new deck are being laid in the foreground.
Maine Department of Conservation
Volunteers from central Aroostook County snowmobile clubs and ATV clubs use heavy equipment to remove the weather-worn deck of a former railroad trestle spanning a stream in Stockholm. Timbers for a new deck are being laid in the foreground.

Across Maine, snowmobile trails received much-needed maintenance this past fall. The sledding season will start soon (hopefully), and snowmobile clubs got their trails into shape before the snow started falling.

And club officials remember the related adventures of 2012 and years past.

The Penobscot Snowmobile Club at 795 Bog Road in Hermon maintains 36 miles of trails, said Trailmaster Byron Ogden. The trail network “connects with the Hermon Family Restaurant on Billings Road in Hermon and Tom T’s on Route 2 and Dysart’s on the Coldbrook Road,” he said. “We have a new trail this year that comes through Freedom Park” and “connects with the Sports Arena on Outer Hammond Street (Route 2).”

Two ITS trails — Numbers 82 and 84 — cross Hermon, with ITS 82 running “from the clubhouse to Dysart’s and [then] all the way south to Searsport,” Ogden said. From Hermon, ITS 84 takes sledders north to the upper Penobscot Valley, Aroostook County, and the St. John Valley.

According to Ogden, 2012 trail maintenance “started in September, a little earlier than we usually do” because “we had a lot of work to do. We put in over 300 man hours … [and] over 50 hours with an excavator, widening” club trails 5 and 9 “going to Hermon Pond.”

Trail maintenance “is a constant matter of keeping the trails trimmed back” and installing “some culverts in wet spots,” Ogden said. Mechanized construction equipment makes the work easier, and he credited the “great support from contractors in the area” for providing backhoes, skid steers, excavators, and other machinery for trail work.

Randy Gardner of Gardner Construction and Alan Door of Alan Door Construction “are tremendously generous” with the use of their equipment, he said. “You really can’t survive without that kind of support.”

Ogden thought about past trail-maintenance adventures; “there’s always fun things that happen, [including] equipment breakdowns,” he commented. “You can get into a wet area that doesn’t look wet, but when you put a 40,000-pound machine into it, it can get stuck in a hurry.”

According to Ogden, ITS 84 crosses the New Boston Road, Billings Road, and Annis Road in Hermon. Because the Penobscot Snowmobile Club recently acquired a new Tucker groomer, the club trails are kept about 10 feet wide — about the width of a private driveway.

Last year “we got a call from a tow company in the area that somebody from Portland with a Volvo had taken a turn onto the snowmobile trail, thinking it was the driveway to his daughter’s house,” Ogden said, his laughter evident during a recent telephone interview.

“He called us and said, ‘I’m not putting my new truck in there. You can come with your Tucker and get him out,’” Ogden chuckled.

“It was [stuck] up in the woods quite a way, a quarter to half a mile” from the Annis Road, he said. Snowmobile club members drove the Tucker to where the Volvo was stuck, then used the groomer to pull the car “backwards to the road.

“He didn’t even put a scratch on it, to my knowledge,” Ogden said.

“It was kind of funny,” he said, laughing again at the memory.

At the Airline Snack Bar almost 50 miles east of Bangor on Route 9, co-owner Frank Janusz remembers “the rock.” He is president of the Airline Riders Snowmobile Club.

The snowmobile club maintains approximately 60 miles of trail, including ITS 81 “south of Route 9 down to the Hatchery Road in Deblois,” Janusz said. Because 85-90 percent of club-maintained snowmobile trails double as ATV trails, trail maintenance takes place in summer, fall, and winter.

While working on “a real rocky trail” in autumn 2011, volunteers discovered “there was a rock sticking up about a foot,” Janusz recalled. The rock’s dimensions suggested minor digging at best, “so we said, ‘Let’s take this rock out.’”

Appearances proved deceiving. Using a small excavator, the volunteers “started digging” — and digging — and digging, until they removed enough soil to discover the rock “was as big as a Volkswagen,” he said.

“The rock turned into a boulder as we started to dig,” Janusz said. “We couldn’t dig the rock out,” so the work crew “dug a hole out around it … big enough to bury a snowmobile.”

Then “we pushed the rock on its side and buried it about a foot under ground. We put a lot of gravel over it,” he said.

Recently on ITS 81 south of Route 9, volunteers hauled 700 yards of gravel to spread “over a mile of trail to improve the drainage,” Janusz said. “That was a lot of work.”

Some trail maintenance occurs each winter, and sometimes wildlife does not cooperate. Early one winter, with his wife, Maryann, leading on her sled, the Januszes “headed out to put signs up” on the Township 22 Loop Trail, Frank Janusz said.

Maryann suddenly stopped “where a moose just refused to leave the trail. It was a decent-sized moose,” Frank remembered.

He stopped behind Maryann. “After we were done taking pictures, we tried making a little noise” to convince the moose (now about 100 feet away) to move off the trail,” Janusz said.

The moose did not. For the next 1½ miles, the moose led the Januszes a merry saunter along the trail before finally stepping into the woods.

Sign-posting took a little longer than expected that day.

And Janusz recalled the “slushy snow that froze, like a half-snow, half-ice storm” a few years ago. A snowmobile trail connects the Airline Snack Bar with the Maine Forest Service facility a short distance to the east; after “all the white birches bent over” the trail, “you couldn’t drive a snowmobile through there,” he said.

Equipped with chainsaws and machetes, several volunteers spent “2½ to three days” clearing “2¼ miles of trail,” Janusz said. “We would park” the snowsleds, “work for about a hundred feet, and then move the equipment forward.

“Took us what seemed forever” to reopen the trail, he said.

Bob Besaw, president of the Presque Isle Snowmobile Club, said that “September to December and [also] May is when the heaviest [trail] maintenance occurs.” The 135-member club maintains “approximately 85 miles of trail one way,” he said.

According to Besaw, club trails are thoroughly checked out every year. “Members with trails on their land or close to their homes usually take care of those trails,” he said. “Larger projects are organized at monthly meetings.”

Maintenance-related equipment matches the season: “Members with ATVs work on joint trails during the ATV season, and members with snowsleds maintain trails” during the winter, Besaw explained.

Volunteers wield chainsaws and hand tools while clearing brush, removing downed trees, “fixing wash-outs, repairing bridges, making new signs, and installing signs” in November and December, Besaw said. “We also hire excavators for large problem areas.”

Mother Nature particularly challenged the Presque Isle Snowmobile Club last winter, he recalled. “We had a large beaver problem, which required hiring a trapper to relocate beavers,” Besaw said. “We had to contract an excavator to repair the damaged areas” before snowfall.

But beaver-related problems did not go away with the beavers. “The first time out opening a trail,” a groomer sank in “a water hole caused by beavers,” Besaw said. “We … had to contract an excavator to pull it (the groomer) out.

“It took most of the season to get the groomer working properly again,” he remembered.

Elsewhere on the trails prior to the 2011-2012 season, “there were areas with 10 to 15 large trees down, which took all day to clear,” Besaw said.

The volunteer effort can extend beyond actual trail maintenance. When “trail-maintenance crews” are engaged in “large group projects,” other club members sometimes serve the crews lunch at the clubhouse, Besaw said.

Volunteers are vital to trail maintenance, said Paul Gallant, president of the Fryeburg-based Interstate Snogoers Snowmobile Club. The club maintains “about 75 miles of trails … primarily in Fryeburg and the trails in Stowe and Sweden,” he said.

The club lists many members on its rolls, but has “just a handful of active members, maybe a dozen or so,” Gallant said. “Eight guys show up for the trail work. That’s probably the worst thing working against us, having too few people to work.”

Volunteers start their trail work “usually in September,” but because so many also volunteer at the Fryeburg Fair, “sometimes we wait until the fair is over,” he said.

Once trail maintenance begins, “every Sunday we meet, and we’ll put in half a day,” Gallant said. Club members try to maintain 12-foot trail widths, and “we know there are certain areas that always need to be brushed out,” he said. “We clean out the stuff (tree limbs) that’s going to be hitting people in the face.”

Land-ownership patterns in the Fryeburg region require club members to “deal with a lot of landowners,” Gallant said. Trail maintenance can also involve multiple landowners, he indicated.

“We deal with issues raised during the off-season,” Gallant explained. Although most local snowmobile trails are closed to ATVs, especially where the trails “cross [tree] plantations and farms and fields,” people often trespass. Gallant cited illegal camping, damage by four-wheel-drive vehicles, and trash dumping as activities that leave landowners upset.

“We get a phone call” from an irate landowner, and “we will go in and fix all the damage and make it right,” he said. “We have nothing without the landowners.”

“We pick up all kinds of trash in the fall from the summertime use,” Gallant said.

Besides damage reported by landowners, club volunteers repair nature’s ravages. Hurricane “Irene didn’t do us any favors” in late August 2011, Gallant recalled. A flooding Saco River erased a key trail, so volunteers built about 1,000 feet of replacement trail.

“As for trees, every year we have a few fall across the trails,” he said.

Trespassing is another issue that Gallant has personally encountered while working on trails. “One time we had just built a brand new [trail] re-route in town,” he said. “As soon as we shut off the mini-excavator we were using to pull rocks and stumps,” two New Hampshire dirt bikers “pulled up. I stopped them and asked them what they were doing.

“They said they saw a new trail and decided to hit it,” despite posted signs barring all but snowmobiles from using the trail, Gallant said.

“Signs don’t matter to some people. They see a trail with sled tracks on it, and they follow it,” he said. A 300-foot access trail leads “from my garage door out to the trail,” yet despite three “no snowmobiling” signs posted along the access trail, sledders still left the main trail and rode “right into my yard,” Gallant said.

He finally installed an orange-flagged cable across the access trail to stop the trespassing.

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