What a good year to start with a dumping of snow.

For the second year a trailer full of cross country ski gear that will be loaned for free will be visiting state parks. The trailer is the result of $20,000 in grants secured last year by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

The department now has a trailer equipped with 66 pairs of Nordic skis, as well as 44 pairs of snowshoes. The trailer will be visiting state parks with groomed trails throughout the state starting Jan. 16 at Sebago Lake State Park in Casco.

Gary Best of the Bureau of Parks and Lands said the project was something of a secret last year, but as the public finds out about the new ski trailer, it should be a hit.

“We have equipment to outfit 110 people at no additional cost beyond park admission. When the trailer is there, people are welcome to try it out and see if they like these sports,” said Best, the southern Maine regional park director.

“We want to encourage more Maine families to get outside. We identified a barrier and want to take it away. Now they do not need to own equipment or even know how to use it. They can borrow it for free and we’ll show them how to use it.”

The trailer and equipment were acquired with the help of a Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund grant, Best said.

The state also had guidance from the Maine Winter Sports Center, which created the model for the roving ski trailer. As part of its mission to get more Mainers outside and living healthy lives, the center since 2005 has circulated a trailer full of ski equipment available for use at no cost. Now it has two such trailers, one that moves through southern Maine and another through northern Maine, said Mike Smith, the center’s Healthy Home Towns program director.

The center’s trailers each provide 70 sets of skis to skiers of all ages, from toddlers to adults. It also leases the ski trailers to different outdoor groups and communities.

“Generally we can outfit 20 people at one time without running into troubles on sizes,” Smith said. “We’re excited to help the state. The state’s winter Family Fun Days (at state parks) drew 1,000 to Aroostook State Park. And it’s a huge help to us. We simply can’t meet the demand that we have. Our calendar is booked this time every year until late March.”

The state’s trailers will be useful at parks with groomed ski trails. There are several, with Mt. Blue State Park in Weld boasting the most, with 15 miles of trails.

“Those are awesome. Mt. Blue has a beautiful landscape that’s really stunning. And there is a new warming hut,” Best said.

The state acquired the ski trailer last year and sent it around to several parks, but the project was little-known, Best said.

However, starting next week the ski trailers will tour the state again – and just in time for Mainers to enjoy the recent storm’s bounty.

At Sebago Lake State Park, where groomed ski trails run alongside the state’s second-largest lake, the outdoor experience is a lot quieter than during busy summer months.

Here a total of five miles of groomed track runs through the Casco park, and another six miles of backcountry trails wander through woods on the Naples side.

The terrain here is flat-to-rolling, with no big hills. The park has offered groomed trails for at least 10 years, said park manager Matt McGuire.

“We’re really trying to increase winter use,” McGuire said.

McGuire, who taught skiing at Cobscook Bay State Park in the past, can’t wait to teach Mainers in southern Maine how to ski.

“They really loved it at Cobscook Bay. We are hoping to get local schools to visit, too,” McGuire said.

The park manager said last year word did not get out well enough to draw a big enough crowd to utilize the equipment when it was offered at Sebago. He’s hoping his park has a larger crowd next week.

“The people who did show up found out about it by accident. But it was very well received,” McGuire said. 

Staff Writer Deirdre Fleming can be reached at 791-6452 or at:

dfleming@pressherald.com

Twitter: FlemingPph