ASHLAND, Maine — Fifty-seven years ago a group of northern Maine businessmen decided they needed a direct route to drive from Aroostook county west to Quebec.
According to Sara Brooks of Ashland, that exploratory trip included 22 people in about 15 cars leaving from the Stewart Hotel in Ashland with power winches, sleeping bags, snowshoes, tire chains and emergency supplies.
Nearly six decades later, the annual Maine Winter Carnival Caravan retraces much of that route in an event that has become more social than exploration.
“We just want to keep this tradition going,” Brooks said. “Those logging roads are such a rich part of the history of northern Maine and of opening up the western part of Aroostook County.”
This year’s caravan leaves Dean’s Hotel in Portage Lake at 7:30 a.m. Feb. 14, and heads west with stops along the way at Maibec logging camp, the border crossing at St. Pamphile, Quebec, and on into Quebec City by way of the ferry crossing at Levi.
Once in Quebec participants will take part in the 60th annual Quebec Winter Carnival in addition to private tours of the parliament building and a reception at Quebec City Hall.
“We like to say this is extending hands of friendship across the border,” Brooks said. “This is an unbelievable cultural opportunity.”
Driving through the working forest of the northern Maine Woods allows people to see logging operations first hand in addition to experiencing the beauty of the area, she said.
Once in Quebec, the emphasis goes from wilderness to near-royalty with the pomp and circumstance of parliament and the mayor’s reception.
During the drive on the woods’ roads, every vehicle is linked by radio to the trail master, who is in constant communication with logging trucks and other woods traffic.
“We are on roads that these 200,000-pound logging trucks call their own,” Brooks said. “Our trail master will hear where the trucks are and it gives us time to get to the sides of the roads and out of their way.”
Over the years, for many participants the caravan was their first glimpse into the northern Maine woods, Brooks said.
“They are like, ‘wow, people live and work like this?’” she said.
This year organizers with the upcoming World Acadian Congress will take part in the caravan to connect with their fellow congress organizers in Quebec.
“We are hoping to have a float in the Winter Carnival parade,” George Dumond, regional congress co-president, said. “We want to have a contingent from Maine and Quebec there.”
Coordinating the trip this year is the Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce.
“The caravan is a great way to meet new people and you make new friends and is a great adventure,” Theresa Fowler, chamber executive director, said. “Over the years numbers of participants have ranged from 20 to 200 — can you imagine?”
For information and registration on the 2014 Maine Quebec Winter Carnival Caravan, visit the Central Aroostook Chamber of Commerce website at www.centralaroostookchamber.com or call the chamber at 764-6561 or Sarah Brooks at 551-6471. Participants will need to register for the caravan and to make their own hotel registrations.