February 26, 2010

Drifters give youths a chance to ride

— Fourteen-year-old Stephen Hatt is praying to the Snow God for more snow.

The heavy rain last month has left the snowmobile trails in and around Windham in pretty bad shape. Hatt is a member of the Windham Junior Drifters Snowmobile Club and rides a 1999 Polaris XC 700 SP. He joined the club when it began this past October.

''It's fun for me,'' Hatt says. ''I like being with friends. The club is good for the future of the hobby. Hopefully more will join.''

With around 25 members, the Junior Drifters meet every third Tuesday of the school year in the Windham High School cafeteria. A junior club is something adults in the larger Windham Drifters Snowmobile Club have sought to organize for a while now. Many are pleasantly surprised at how seriously the kids are taking things; officers have been elected and duties assigned.

Junior Drifters President Kamden Berry, 14, rides a Yamaha V-Max and organizes young folks in performing trail maintenance, putting up signs, and cutting trees and branches.

''I like getting out into the woods and going places where you can't go with a car,'' Berry said.

But the club is a lot more than hitting the trails with friends. Berry's mother, Linda, is adviser and point person for the Junior Drifters. She said the club's larger goals seek to ensure the future of a sport that's intimately tied to positive landowner relations and safe riding practices.

''We live next to a sled trail,'' Linda Berry explains. ''Sometimes there are teenagers who go by with less than the proper level of respect. Our concern is that if we don't teach our young people how to take care of the trails and landowner use, the trails could be closed.''

Berry also notes many snowmobile clubs in Maine got started by folks who are getting on in years. ''We want to ensure there are people in the future who are there to continue the work and responsibility of trail work,'' she said.

Parents of Junior Drifters are conscious that many outlets exist for traditional sports, such as baseball, soccer and field hockey, but few exist for young folks to learn about and safely practice motorsports. Two meetings ago, Junior Drifter members were given a snowmobile safety DVD to take home and review. A quiz on the material was given at the last meeting with the highest scorer getting a Windham Junior Drifters Snowmobile Club T-shirt.

Teaching young riders the basic mechanics of a snow machine is another element the new club will address at future meetings. ''If 14- and 15-year-olds, which is legal age for riding alone, are out on the trails and something goes wrong on the sled,'' Berry said, ''they'll have an idea of what to do.''

Most young trail riders say they like the landscape and opportunities sledding in Windham affords. There are many fields and woods trails, and gas stations and restaurants are accessible. The young riders like pulling into Pat's Pizza for a warming break and something hot to eat.

On Sunday, the Junior Drifters will be putting on a pancake breakfast at Applebee's in North Windham to raise money for their cause and for the Kyle Rogers Scholarship. A very active rider in Windham, the young Rogers met an untimely and tragic death in December 2008 while sledding in what became changeable and icy trail conditions in the northern Maine town of Portage.

Two seatings at 8 and 8:45 a.m. are scheduled Sunday at Applebee's. Five dollars gets you all the pancakes you can eat, juice and coffee.

If the trails support it, Stratton Berry will be pulling up for pancakes in his Polaris Indy 400. ''I like breaking trails after a fresh snow storm,'' the eager 10-year-old says.

And after uttering his white wishes to the Snow God, Stephen Hatt, a cousin of the late Kyle Rogers, will also be there. ''I kind of have my own Snow God,'' Hatt explains. ''My cousin Kyle. I think of him as my Snow God. I pray to him once in a while for snow.''

Fear not, sledders. Maine's got at least two more months for the Snow God to deliver.

The club welcomes new members. For more information, call Linda Berry at 892-8348.

Don Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Raymond. He can be reached at:

presswriter@gmail.com

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