It’s been an amazing season for snowmobiling in Maine, one of the best in the last two decades.
That has translated into more people on the trails, more people visiting the state and a big boost to the economy and tourism industries.
In fact, the state of Maine estimates the economic value of snowmobiling at $350 million annually; and because of our snow-heavy winter, we’ve been fortunate that every trail across the state was open at one time.
Arguably, the most important component of the riding season is something completely out of our control: the snow. However, one example of something within our control is the ability to establish unique and mutually beneficial partnerships with other Maine industries and landowners. Because even the best snow season only matters when we have great trails to ride.
In recent years, many Maine Snowmobile Association clubs have partnered with our growing wind energy industry to create news trails, attract new corporate sponsors and offer snowmobilers from Maine and beyond unique experiences as they ride through our state.
There are two wind industry-sponsored “ride-ins” where companies such as First Wind and Patriot Renewables work collaboratively with local trail clubs to offer weekend rides that take them right by operating wind farms.
The annual “Stetson Wind Snowmobile Ride-in” is in its fourth year and continues to grow in popularity and in the number of participants. And the annual “Spruce Mountain Wind Ride” was a major success connecting local riding clubs and members of the community enjoying the winter weather at the operations and maintenance building for the Spruce Mountain project.
Our relationship with the industry has continued to grow, too.
We received some great news with Hancock Wind’s recent approval by the Department of Environmental Protection. The project’s community benefits package includes a $25,000 contribution toward the creation of the “Ride The Wind” trail. This new trail is 590 miles long and connects 10 wind farms across the state — from Kibby and Spruce mountains in the western mountains, heading Down East to Rollins and Stetson, and continuing north up to Mars Hill.
Additionally, another of First Wind’s projects, Bowers Wind, has proposed to contribute another $25,000 to the “Ride The Wind” effort. The Bowers funding is conditioned upon the wind farm’s approval, and we are proud to have publicly supported the project as a good fit for Maine’s environment, its tourism industry and surrounding communities.
During the debate about wind energy in Maine, it seems our state often forgets that the benefits of the industry go beyond generating clean, renewable energy and helping to reduce electricity prices. The companies that are putting faith in Maine and investing in our state are also significant partners in our communities. The companies contribute to the fabric that makes our state great by supporting our people and other important industries.
Tourism depends on the state setting a predictable and stable regulatory environment. That’s just as true for other industries, including the wind industry. We all need to know that we can count on the rules and count on them being administered fairly. The wind industry has been singled out for less-than-equal treatment.
Maine snowmobilers know the rules of the trail. They keep riders safe and make sure everyone can have a good time. Maine is at its best when industry can also be confident in the rules and can invest in our state with confidence.
Bob Meyers is executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association.