December 9, 2012

Snowmobiling: Riders ready to hop on and enjoy a great winter

By Cathy Genthner


NAME: St. John Valley Trail

LOCATION: Aroostook County

LOCAL CLUB: Madawaska and Fort Kent Snowmobile Clubs

CONTACT INFORMATION: Mike Guerette, president, Madawaska club, 728-7097

WHAT'S OFFERED: Beginning on ITS 85 in Madawaska, head west to Fort Kent for breathtaking views of the St. John Valley featuring rolling hills, rivers, lakes and farms.

If Hurricane Sandy is any indication of precipitation to come for the Northeast, we should be in for a lot of snow and some great riding this season. Club members have been busy getting trails ready by clearing brush, removing rocks, repairing bridges and other maintenance projects, just waiting for the first rideable snow.

"We're looking forward to a good winter. All the signs are there and I think if we see some early snow, everyone will be right back at it," said Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association.

Some spots likely to get early snow are Aroostook County as well as western Maine mountains. The snowmobile season can be weeks longer than in other parts of Maine. Early and late in the season, days are longer and warmer with more sunlight on both ends of the day. Harsh winter days with below- zero temperatures and blizzard conditions haven't arrived yet or have started to fade. If you're riding in December or April, it can be a very comfortable trip with less clothing needed, as well as chances to stop and enjoy the scenery, including an expanse of the St. John River Valley.

"We are just so much higher up in latitude. Our winters last three weeks longer and come three weeks sooner," said Allen Chamberland, the treasurer of the SnoRiders Snowmobile Club in Fort Kent. "We are guaranteed to have snow most of the winter. We've gotten caught with an early snowstorm and we haven't had all our trail signs out yet. We find it a challenge but we do like to groom beyond April 1 when we can. There are a few areas in the woods region where you can ride in the middle of April and go off the trail with the landowner's permission. People have gone snowmobiling in a T-shirt. I've also heard stories about someone taking a motorcycle out in the afternoon, then getting on a sled at night once it crusted over."

Fort Kent is dedicated to the comfort and convenience of snowmobilers, with a group of volunteers grooming nearly 30 miles of club trails and sections of ITS-85 and ITS-92, which lead to other parts of Maine and Canada. Volunteers also work to repair and maintain groomers, saving the club money for mechanical repairs. Trails lead to the downtown area where there are gas stations, restaurants, hotels and other services. Fort Kent is a hub with trails connecting to St. Francis, Ashland, Eagle Lake, Madawaska, Caribou and Canada. But because it's located at Maine's northern border, far from more southern or western destinations, trails don't have the amount of traffic and, as a result, it's very family-friendly. There are fewer accidents on the trails and they remain in better shape because they don't get beat up from heavy use and higher speeds.

All four brands of snowmobiles are sold in Fort Kent -- Ski-Doo, Polaris, Arctic Cat and Yamaha -- with visitors coming to town to buy sleds, then often keeping them there throughout the year. Dealers offer year-round sled storage for people from outside the area. Dealers have warehouses where sleds are stored safely away from the elements until snowmobile season arrives. Everyone is hoping that soon we can all take our sleds out of storage. What a great Christmas present that would be from Mother Nature.

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.


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