Recent rains may lead to cancellation or postponement of winter activities in most parts of the state

Crowds gather at the Plum Creek Wilderness Sled Dog Race in Greenville at a past event. Due to a lack of snow, race organizers have not been able to hold the race since 2011. Much of Aroostook County saw its snow wiped out after rain swept into the area in early January, leaving yards with patches of visible grass and snowmobile trails with bare patches and water holes.
PHOTO COURTESY OF WILDERNESS SLED DOG RACE
Crowds gather at the Plum Creek Wilderness Sled Dog Race in Greenville at a past event. Due to a lack of snow, race organizers have not been able to hold the race since 2011. Much of Aroostook County saw its snow wiped out after rain swept into the area in early January, leaving yards with patches of visible grass and snowmobile trails with bare patches and water holes.
Posted Jan. 18, 2014, at 3:47 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 19, 2014, at 8:24 p.m.

HOULTON, Maine — Lynda Henderson of Houlton said on Thursday that she was so excited when she received her first pair of snowshoes for Christmas.

“My friends at work all had been talking to me over the past two years about how much fun they had snowshoeing together and with their families,” she said. “So I finally asked my husband to get me a pair so that I could join them. I thought that this year would be great, especially, since it snowed so early.”

She thought wrong.

Across Aroostook County and other parts of the state, Mainers are finding themselves shut out of activities such as snowmobiling, skiing, and snowshoeing and some events may have to be canceled due to a lack of snow.

A light snowstorm moved through the area on Sunday, but did not drop much to make any significant improvement for winter sports enthusiasts. Mark Bloomer, meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Caribou, said Sunday evening that Presque Isle and Caribou got 1 inch of snow, while Sherman picked up 3 inches. Bangor and Stetson also received 3 inches of snow, while Corrina saw 2 inches. Bloomer said that the band of snow was heavier in the Houlton area, which he believed picked up 3 to 4 inches of snow by Sunday evening. Lower temperatures this week also will benefit snow-making operations at Maine’s ski areas.

Kathy Mazzuchelli, director of Caribou Parks and Recreation, is the voice of snowmobiling in northern Maine. She said the early snow that came in December helped trail groomers establish a good base for the trails, which she pegged as a “salvation” for the businesses that rely on snowmobilers to help them through the winter.

“We had snowmobilers out on the trails and then we had that substantial rain come in and wipe out a lot of the snow,” said Mazzuchelli. “Now, the base is still good, but you have to watch out on the trails. You can run into 3- or 4-foot water holes or hard-packed ice. There is lots of water out on the trails now.”

Mazzuchelli said that conditions are not as bad as they were at the end of last January, when all of the snow was gone.

“If we get a bit of snow this coming week it would help,” she said. “It’s a lot like spring conditions out there. High speed riding will be problematic. People have to go slowly, they have to use common sense. You could come around a corner and see yourself facing a 3-foot water hole. But the base has held up very well, and that is because of our groomers and the hard work that they have done.”

She said that she heard from area hotels and restaurants that business from snowmobilers had picked up over the Christmas holiday.

“It was cold, but we had snow and the riding was excellent,” she said. “Now, I am hearing its dropped off a bit.”

Fort Kent Police Chief Kenneth “Doody” Michaud is also a volunteer trail groomer in the area. He said that the St. John Valley did not get the rain that wiped out the majority of the snow in central and southern Aroostook County, leaving the trails in pretty good shape in that area.

“The snow is soft, but there is not a lot of water out there,” he said. “We didn’t lose our snow. There are no bare patches on the trails. There are no water holes or ice. Here in Fort Kent, we just had a big group of out-of-state snowmobilers pull in to spend some vacation time.”

In Greenville, Amy Dugan is once again one of the race organizers of the annual Plum Creek Wilderness Sled Dog Race. She has been watching the forecast closely and is worried that for the third year, they might have to cancel the race.

“We have not been able to have a race since 2011 because we have not had enough snow,” she said. “It seems like we have a lot of snow right up until a few weeks before the race, and then it rains. Last year, we went out and marked the trails on the Tuesday before the race and then we got a huge rainstorm and we couldn’t even groom the trails and we had to cancel it. It just would not have been safe.”

This year’s race will be held on Feb. 1, with a postponement date of Feb. 8.

Dugan said that she is hoping more snow falls soon.

“There is a lot of time and effort put into the race, and I think people enjoy watching it,” she said. “And I know that the mushers enjoy taking part in it. It’s also a good economic boost for the area.”

 

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