MILLINOCKET — This time of year on Interstate 95, a good hour north of Bangor, you’ll usually find high snowbanks, ice-covered lakes and miles of hard-packed snowmobile trails.

Not this winter. Brown grass and puddles cover the landscape.

“It’s just the die-hards out around here,” said Mike Carlton of Hebron while snowmobiling in Millinocket last weekend. “They say you’ve got to go to Caribou to find snow. And that’s another 21/2 hours.”

Northern Maine towns that depend on snowmobile traffic to fuel economies are seeing little.

“It’s horrible. It’s the worst winter for snow,” said Anne Darling, the manager at the Baxter Park Inn in Millinocket. “Last winter we were full every weekend. This has been absolutely the opposite. We’ve had some die-hards, but they like to ride from the parking lot and they can’t do it this year (because there’s only pavement). It’s been a struggle. Most of our employees who we had to lay off had to go on unemployment.”

Along Main Street, where restaurants are usually bustling with riders in one of Maine’s premier snowmobile towns, it was as wet as May, and empty.

“I haven’t seen nearly as many tourists, those nonresidents who have second homes here. They buy them cheap. That’s the only thing helping the housing market,” said Dan Nelson, owner of Millinocket Variety.

And out on the snowmobile trails, riders said sled traffic this winter is half of what’s typical.

Josh Soper, 31, of Bangor, said he’s only been out three times this year. Normally he’d have ridden in the Mount Katahdin region a dozen times by now.

He headed off with a half-dozen friends from the Northern Timber Cruisers Clubhouse despite the warm rain falling. Not ideal conditions, but Soper said he missed riding.

“It’s just a horrible year for snow sports,” agreed Joe Gallant of East Providence, Rhode Island.

Last Sunday, riders with out-of-state plates could be seen passing through town. That’s usually a good sign. But some said they’d only return if conditions improved.

“It was decent riding. It was good for what the weather has been. We’d like to come back if you guys can get snow instead of rain,” said Ryan Brown of Weymouth, Massachusetts, who stopped for coffee in Millinocket with his dad on their way back home.

The Browns stayed at the Northern Outdoors resort in West Forks, 21/2 hours west of Millinocket, where they tried out their new sleds. Brown said they spent $1,000 during their four-day trip to Maine.

Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association, said snowmobile trails are questionable as far north as New Brunswick.

“It’s pretty grim right now. It’s really a mess. It’s a shame,” Meyers said.

“Surprisingly, there is still some riding out there, near Allagash and Eagle Lake, and up north of Moosehead Lake.”

Meyers said snowmobile registration at the end of January was down about 23 percent from last year, with just 40,000 registered sleds. Last winter there were 84,000 registered sleds in Maine, Meyers said, closing out one of the busiest snowmobile seasons in many years.

Kevin Higgins of Norton, Massachusetts, normally comes up to Millinocket with his family every weekend. But he came last weekend for just the second time this winter.

“Last year there was so much snow, it was crazy,” said Higgins, 43. “It’s hard with the rocks and the dirt. You don’t know if you will break through the trail. You don’t want to go have to spend $500 on new skis.”


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