Many folks have just put their sleds away for the season, but they may want to get them out again for some great early spring riding. Last week’s snowstorm dumped more than a foot on most of Maine with some places up north and in the mountains receiving close to two feet. It has been a great season for snowmobiling.
“This is sure starting to look like the winter that might never end with storms dumping snow into some areas almost on a weekly basis,” said Bob Meyers, the executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association. “There are still very good spring conditions in many areas of the state, primarily in a band starting in Rangeley and across through Eustis, Jackman, Pittston Farm, Kokadjo, Millinocket, Shin Pond and on up to some areas of Aroostook County.”
The fluctuations in temperatures may cause conditions to change rapidly, so riders are encouraged to check in with the MSA trail conditions page at http://www.mesnow.com/ WherestheSnow.html for snow-depth and other information.
One place that often has snow late is the Patten area in Aroostook County. Trails there offer some of the best views of Mount Katahdin.
On the northeast side of Mount Katahdin is the home of the Patten Lumbering Museum and some great trail riding in wilderness that is the heart of the logging industry. Snowmobiling takes place on ITS-81 as well as on connector trails. In fact, the best view of the mountain is in Patten on ITS-81 heading north to Shin Pond, although a close second are views of the mountain heading south on the same trail. Members of the Rockabema Snow Rangers Snowmobile Club based in Patten groom more than 125 miles of local and ITS trails in the shadow of Mount Katahdin. Laura Kenney is club treasurer and her husband worked as a ranger at Baxter State Park for 40 years before retiring. The two have a farm in Patten and are active in the club.
“We have the best views of Mount Katahdin in the state from our trails,” said Kenney. “The trails are excellent and we are off the beaten path so the trails aren’t as heavily used.”
From Patten, you can travel north by sled to places like Ashland, Portage and Presque Isle. Trails to the south lead to Sherman and Millinocket. To the east is Island Falls, and to the west is Big Sebois and Lake View Plantation. The club maintains a clubhouse on Park Road, right off Route 11. Snowmobilers are welcome to park their vehicles and trailers at the clubhouse. Local connector trail 112 right behind the clubhouse leads to major ITS trails.
David Symmes of Pittston is also a member of the club and grooms the trails. It is difficult to say whether he likes riding or groomer better.
“Most of all I like to just putt around,” said Symmes. “When I am on the groomer, I like to go slower because that way you see a lot of stuff. We take a lot of pride in what we do and it is nice to look back and see that freshly groomed flat trail. But it doesn’t stay that way for long.”
Symmes reminisces about the early days of snowmobiling, when One-lungers ruled the trails and didn’t go over 35 mph. He learned to ride on the Polaris and Ski-doo sleds made in the 1960s. His father was the supply officer for the Maine Warden Service. All of the sleds that were to be sold at the state auction came to the supply house on Federal Street in Augusta.
“Dad let me tinker on them and ride them around the warehouse. It was great fun and I learned to take them apart and put them back together. We never owned a sled, as dad always had a new ‘space’ sled that needed to go through the break-in period before it was issued to a warden in the field,” said Symmes. “I’d like to go back to the good old days when they made single-cylinder sleds that today are used mostly by ice fishermen. Those sleds did a lot less damage to the trails because they didn’t go 100 miles an hour. That is why I don’t like to ride on the main ITS trails. I like riding on the local trails or riding off-trail because of all the wildlife you see. You see deer in the cedar trees at Matagamon Lake. I like going slower because you see more and there is less chance of an accident.”
Patten’s trails are on the east side of Katahdin, giving snowmobilers a view of the Appalachian range. Snowmobilers are riding on land that was an integral part of Maine’s logging history.
“The view from the trail is just breathtaking. If you’ve never experienced it, you’ve got to do it,” said Symmes. “The Patten is the best-kept secret snowmobiling area in Maine. The trails don’t get a lot of use and traffic. I don’t know why there isn’t a lot of use, but I am glad there isn’t.”
Cathy Genthner is the owner of River Bluff Camps, located off of ITS-83, and is licensed by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife to guide snowmobile trips. She can be reached at: