CARIBOU, Maine — Snowmobilers from Maine and New England are heading to northern Maine and Aroostook County’s trails are ready for them.
In a winter where much of Maine is seeing milder temperatures and snowfall, more snowmobile enthusiasts than ever are seeking out the remote northern Maine trails. That’s good news for a region that has traditionally relied on the snowmobile industry to bring tourists and related revenue during the winter.
The Fort Kent SnoRiders maintain roughly 65 miles of trails, according to club trailmaster Cody Dubois. All five of the club’s trails have been groomed and are considered safe for riding, despite having only 10 inches of packed snow.
Though the lesser amount of snowfall may seem unusual for Aroostook, Dubois said that more riders than ever have traveled to Fort Kent from central and southern Maine. Many riders from those regions have not seen enough snowfall for safe snowmobiling.
“We should have double the snowpack right now,” Dubois said. “But we do have more snow than last year [at this time]. Last year we had half the amount of packed snow because of rain.”
Dubois has been urging riders to practice more caution until the trails see more snowfall. Thinner snowpacks combined with frequent snowmobile traffic could increase the chances of riders coming across loose rocks and tree branches unexpectedly.
“South of Houlton, the rideable trails are really scarce. A lot of clubs downstate haven’t even started grooming yet,” Dubois said. “We’ve actually seen a lot of new riders from out of town because of that.”
There’s also a growing trend of riders from out of state visiting Aroostook, said Gary Marquis, superintendent of Caribou Parks & Recreation. People from states such as New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts have flocked to the region due to the lesser snow totals in other parts of the state.
The city of Caribou maintains all 110 miles of trails while the snowmobile club assists with signage and raises funds for new equipment purchases. Thanks to the hard work of groomers, all trails are now open to the public and are in “excellent condition,” Marquis said.
“Riders have been amazed at how much we’ve been able to do with what little snow we have,” Marquis said. “The trails are actually in better condition than they were last year.”
Marquis, who publishes the annual Snowmobile Trail Report, noted that exact trail conditions will vary throughout the winter based on snowfall totals and the landscapes of each region of The County.
In central Aroostook, for instance, many clubs have delayed grooming trails that cut across open fields due to the thinner layers of snow.
That has been the case for the Presque Isle Snowmobile Club, whose volunteers have groomed 70 percent of the 95 miles of trails that stretch from the city to surrounding towns. Groomers began two weeks ago and have thus far opened roughly one third of the trail system to riders.
“Recently, we have seen some light snow that allowed us to begin grooming the field trails,” club president Kevin Freeman said.
In collaboration with smaller clubs of neighboring communities, the Presque Isle volunteers typically groom trails from early January to late March. Though the exact season length is weather dependent, volunteers have been grateful to have enough snow to kick off another busy winter.
“We feel fortunate to have this early snow. Last year we did not have enough to groom until Jan. 29,” Freeman said. “We’re three weeks earlier than last season.”