Wednesday, April 16, 2014
By Cathy Genthner
Last weekend's blizzard made getting around a real hassle, but snowmobilers now are reaping the benefits of the winter storm or blizzard. It seems that a lot of people have been waiting for years for a good old-fashioned nor'easter.
"Even before the season began, we sensed that there was a lot of pent-up enthusiasm, and the storms right around Christmas really started things off with a bang," said Bob Meyers, the executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association.
"The warm weather and rain events didn't help, but there hasn't been a time yet this season when someone who wanted to ride couldn't. This latest storm is a huge boost. It gets the folks out that either can't or won't travel to ride. It's exciting when you can ride anywhere in the state, and it sure looks like we're there now. This is great for our funding and great for all the folks that rely on snowmobiling business."
One of the events that is certainly benefiting from the storm is the 29th annual fishing derby Sunday in the Belgrade Lakes area.
This is the first year the Belgrade Draggin' Masters Snowmobile Club is sponsoring the derby, which was previously put on by the Lions Club. The derby is held on a "free fishing day" when no license is needed. It lasts from 6 a.m. to 5 p.m., and weigh-in is from 2 to 5 p.m., at the Center for All Seasons on Route 27 in Belgrade. Tickets are $10 per person with first prize being $500 and if the state's pike record of 31.2 pounds is broken, there is a bonus of $3,000. There are cash prizes for other species of fish as well.
If you aren't interested in fishing, the snowmobile club has more than 36 miles of groomed trails that cover some beautiful country. There is a lovely view from the top of Blueberry Hill where you can see Long Pond, Great Pond, other bodies of water, the Belgrade Lakes Village and the whole area below from the summit. The trails lead to numerous lakes, ponds and streams, including Great Pond, Long Pond, Messalonskee Lake, Ingham Pond, Ingham Stream and Salmon Lake.
The Belgrade Lakes area offers tranquility and great views. Parking for trailers is available at 245 Bartlett Road in Belgrade, the home of 84-year-old Lou Ashland, who has been president of the club for more than 20 years, because according to Lou, no one else wanted to do it. He stays active by playing bridge and snowmobiling, although he says he doesn't go out on the trails by himself any longer.
Although he has breathing problems, Lou still puts signs on the trails each year before the season. He has seen many changes in the club and sport over the years.
"The sleds have improved dramatically in terms of reliability," said Ashland. "Years ago we would go out in a group of 10 sleds and one would always break down during the trip.
"I like the silence of woods in the snow. It is so enjoyable to create pretty trails with the groomers in the woods."
The club logo is a medieval green fire-breathing dragon, although the club is named for the homemade drags it used to use to groom the trails.
"Over the years we used homemade drags, which evolved into what we use today," said Ernie Rice, the vice president of the club. "In the early days we used two-by-fours nailed together. Having all those years of practical, hands-on experience and collaboration, we feel we are the 'Draggin' Masters.'
"Every winter, maintaining trails has been a special pleasure. It is hard to describe the pride I feel when there are very smooth trails that take snowmobilers to their destination or simply provide a great ride. The spectacular sights one sees over the years remain memorable. There is nothing like being out on a full moonlit night with fresh snow and frost on the trees, while hauling a drag, leaving a white-hot-topped trail behind."
The club has grown in its size and sophistication of equipment. It now has nine snowmobiles used for dragging, and a track truck plus drags and miscellaneous equipment.
Every year the club hosts a cookout in March, followed by a landowner appreciation dinner in April.
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: