Most Mainers have put the worst of the late-December ice storm behind them, but snowmobile clubs in Washington, Hancock and southern Aroostook counties are still struggling to open trails that were made impassable by fallen trees during that storm.
Reports in much of Aroostook County are better, while farther south, in parts of Kennebec County, some clubs are experiencing trail closures while others aren’t.
“We’ve cleared quite a bit, but we’ve probably got half of our trail system left to do, probably another 30 miles,” said Grant Hanscom, president of the Downeast Trail Riders in East Machias.
Hanscom said he has been a club member for 15 years or so, and said he thinks the most recent ice storm was more devastating to the snowmobile trails than even the 1998 storm was.
Hanscom said that it has been hard to round up work crews to cut away the fallen trees and reopen the trails.
“We’ve had probably at most three or four [people volunteering],” Hanscom said. “A lot of ’em out there like to ride, but they don’t carry a chain saw. They knock down enough [trees] to get through, but we can’t groom [a trail] until it’s nine feet wide, at least.”
In order to clear the trails as quickly as possible, Hanscom said his club has hired an excavator operator at a cost of nearly $100 per hour to do the work.
“We’re hoping we can get reimbursed from the state, which is questionable,” he said.
Hanscom said the Downeast Trail Riders will hold a work detail on Saturday, with volunteers meeting at 8 a.m. at Archibald’s in East Machias. Those who want to help should bring a chain saw. In order to get to the areas where cutting is necessary, they’ll also have to have a snowmobile.
The Ridge Riders Trail Club in Machias have also been working to reopen trails for riders.
Bill Cherry, the club’s president, said that the situation was so bad that club officers quickly decided it wasn’t safe for volunteers to do the work. Instead, the group hired excavator operators to clear the trails.
“It’s the only way you can humanly do this and be safe,” Cherry said, explaining that hundreds of trees have bent over all the way to the ground, with the tops of the trees frozen beneath snow and ice.
“The only way we can release those spring poles, which is what they really are, [is with an excavator],” he said.
But hiring heavy machinery operators isn’t cheap, and when you’ve got three excavators working at once, as his club does, the cost adds up in a hurry.
“[We’re spending] $720-$900 per day per machine,” Cherry said. “Today [crews] will probably complete it. But we’ve got six to eight workdays with those machines out there.”
Cherry said the club will spend $8,000-$10,000 to clear the ice storm debris. He’s hopeful that typically generous donors will help defray some of the costs involved with keeping the club’s multi-use trails open.
Those interested in donating to help pay for the work to clear trails in Machias can send checks to Ridge Riders Trail Club, P.O. Box 200, Machias 04654.