Storm brings snowmobilers north this weekend

Posted Dec. 29, 2012, at 1:49 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 30, 2012, at 5:36 p.m.

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Groomers take care of some of the more than 13,500 miles of snowmobile trails in Maine in January 2010. Snowmobilers may be flocking to northern Maine now that the state has a heap of fresh snow.
Julia Bayly
Groomers take care of some of the more than 13,500 miles of snowmobile trails in Maine in January 2010. Snowmobilers may be flocking to northern Maine now that the state has a heap of fresh snow. Buy Photo

Rick LeVasseur expects to spend most of this weekend driving a trail groomer.

The owner of 5 Lakes Lodge on South Twin Lake and a leader of the JoMary Riders Snowmobile Club, LeVasseur spent about eight hours on Friday on a groomer with his chain saw. He cleared fallen trees and groomed the multiuse snowmobile trail that runs from South Twin Lake into Millinocket, among other things.

Thursday’s storm left as much as 18 inches of snow in some areas of Maine, but the storm of the previous week was heavy with freezing rain that bent trees to the ground over much of the trails his club maintains, LeVasseur said.

“Of the 106 miles of trail that we groom, we still have 40 miles that needs to be completely brushed out [cleared of trees and brush] before it can be groomed out,” LeVasseur said Friday. “The thing that stinks is it’s so thick. It is a jungle and you can’t even get a snowmobile through it with all the trees that are down.”

The hard work of LeVasseur and thousands of other volunteers who belong to the state’s 290 snowmobile clubs is among the reasons why Maine Snowmobile Association Executive Director Bob Meyers expects this weekend to be the start of a very good snowmobiling season, he said.

Most of the state’s 14,500 miles of trails “appear to be in pretty good shape,” Meyers said. “Everybody is doing double duty trying get things cleaned up. There will be more trails that are open [this weekend] than not open.”

The association’s website got 15,559 hits Thursday on its trail conditions page — a good sign that snowmobilers in state and out are eager to start their engines, Meyers said.

Riders are encouraged to check trail condition websites and to stay off all lakes and rivers. Meyers said lake ice is still far too thin, if not nonexistent, to support snowmobiles.

“Nothing is safe,” he said of the state’s waterways.

Snow-covered water is especially hazardous. The snow often acts as an insulator against the deep cold that creates ice thick enough to stand a snowmobile’s weight, Meyers said.

Meyers hopes that the snowstorms so far this month, coupled with the 12 inches of snow expected to hit the midcoast region overnight Saturday, will resuscitate a snowmobile industry that typically contributes about $350 million annually to the state’s economy but had a dreadful season last year.

The snowmobile clubs’ grooming efforts are supported by about $4 million in snowmobile registration fees annually plus a percentage of the state’s gas tax. Typically, about 85,000 to 90,000 sleds are registered annually, but only about 62,000 registered last year due to the lack of snow, Meyers said.

“It was awful,” Meyers said of the 2011-12 snowmobile season. “As a case in point, there is probably more snow fallen in the state in the last 72 hours than there was last January and February.”

“You could not ask for a better start to this year,” Meyers said. “We have a holiday weekend coming up, plenty of snow on the ground, and lot of trails opening up.”

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