February 9

Snowmobilers hit Maine trails; at least 10 injured

The Maine Warden Service urges sledders to slow down and use more caution.

By Dennis Hoey dhoey@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

and Beth Quimby bquimby@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

BUXTON — The weekend’s sunny, mild weather proved to be a mixed blessing for the state’s snowmobile riders. The sun and snow conditions meant more people were able to get outside and enjoy the trails, but with increased usage came a rash of accidents and a warning from the Maine Warden Service.

click image to enlarge

A snowmobiler winds along Route 89 – a section of the International Trail System – in Buxton on Sunday. Ideal conditions brought snowmobilers out on Maine trails, but at least 10 people were injured over the weekend.

Photos by Jill Brady/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Timothy O’Connor of Buxton, far right, enjoys some lunch with his son, John O’Connor of Rockland, Mass., second from right, and his grandsons, from far left, Timothy, 15, Owen, 7, and John Jr., 11, during a stop at the Sokokis Riders’ snack shed and shelter on Route 89 on Sunday.

In a news release Sunday, Cpl. John MacDonald, the warden service spokesman, urged riders to slow down, keep to the right and never drink and drive.

From Friday to Sunday, MacDonald said, wardens responded to more than nine crashes involving injuries, including in Dyer Brook, Fort Kent, Lyman, Greenwood, Acton, Lewiston, Bingham, Athens and Casco.

The warden service said speed, alcohol and driver inexperience were factors in many of the crashes. At least 10 people were treated for broken legs, cuts, concussions and other injuries.

In a crash Saturday in Lewiston, a grandfather riding with a 4-year-old and two 8-year-old children struck a tree after one of the 8-year-olds hit the throttle and accelerated. That child was taken to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston with non-life-threatening injuries.

In Greenwood on Saturday, a Rhode Island man who was operating a rented snowmobile had to be transported to Bridgton Hospital after he stuck his leg out to try to keep his snowmobile from rolling over. He suffered a broken leg.

Two people have died in snowmobile crashes in Maine this season.

In New Hampshire, authorities reported that 62-year-old Peter Kavalauskas of Dover, N.H., was killed around 1 a.m. Saturday when his snowmobile crashed into trees on Millen Lake in Washington, N.H. Kavalauskas announced recently that he was retiring as president and chief executive officer of Northeast Credit Union, which is based in Portsmouth.

The weekend’s mayhem did not deter other snowmobilers, who flocked to the Sokokis Riders shelter behind Frugal Farm about 300 yards from Rankin Road in Buxton. The shelter is a popular stop-off for those traveling the International Trail System 89 route, which runs 306 miles between Lebanon and the Canadian border. The route is part of the 14,000 miles of trails open to snowmobiles in the state.

Founded nearly a half-century ago, the Sokokis Riders may be the oldest snowmobile club in Maine, members say. On Sundays the club sells hot dogs, hamburgers, hot cocoa and other snacks from its shed. The club’s 40 members groom 60 miles of trails, maintain the shelter and portable restroom and haul the wood for the fire pit, where riders gather to warm up and swap stories.

On a good Sunday, the club will serve 300 people, said Jason Baker of Gorham, club president.

A dozen snowmobiles were parked outside the Sokokis Riders snack shed and shelter Sunday morning. By noon, they had been joined by dozens more as some of the best conditions of the winter drew riders out onto Maine trails.

“It’s perfect,” said Ashley Smiley, who stopped at the shelter on a trip from the trail outside her house in Saco to Gorham and back.

The snack shed was a draw for Timothy O’Connor of Buxton, who treated his son, John O’Connor of Rockland, Mass., and his three O’Connor grandsons, Timothy, 15, John, 11, and Owen, 7, to an early lunch.

O’Connor said he has patronized the snack shed since 1975, the year he bought a vacation home in Buxton, where he retired two years ago. He said now he takes his grandchildren out on the weekends. “It’s absolutely fabulous,” he said.

Amenities on other sections of the trail are not nearly as civilized as they are at the Sokokis Riders’ shelter, said Bill Fuller of Buxton, one of those spinning stories around the fire pit Sunday.

Fuller said he will never forget the trip he took with friends some years back. There were no amenities such as portable restrooms where they wound up. He said one of the women was horrified when she found out the restroom was wherever she could find some privacy.

“She was a regular débutante,” Fuller said.

But nature was calling, he said. The woman finally gave in. She struggled to extricate herself from her one-piece snowsuit with attached hood, only to receive a big surprise when she put her hood back up – it was all wet.

“It couldn’t have happened to a more perfect person,” Fuller said, laughing.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

dhoey@pressherald.com

Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

bquimby@pressherald.com

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