Snowmobile trail maintenance doesn’t stop once the snow arrives. Harrison Friendly Rider volunteer repair a waterway crossing last winter. Submitted photo

NORWAY — For Tim Mowatt, snowmobile season starts in October as the Fryeburg Fair winds down. That is when the president of Norway Trackers Snowmobile Club and his team of volunteers head out on the trails of Oxford county and get to work on winter preparation. They take out fallen trees, trim back brush, and repair waterway crossings where necessary.

A rotted bridge is replaced by a gravel/culvert crossing in Harrison on Oct. 20. Club volunteers have to haul equipment, supplies, and erosion control materials as part of snowmobile trail maintenance. Submitted photo

“Our club membership averages about 50,” Mowatt said. “But I would say [only] about half of those members are active in it. We start working on the trails in October. On any given Sunday, there will be up to a dozen who can come out to help. And we keep at it every week, usually well past the first snowfall.”

With 300 snowmobiling Norway residents registering their sleds and using the trails, Mowatt wishes Norway Trackers had more members supporting the efforts to keep the riding open and safe.

“Lack of help is the biggest challenge,” he said.

In Harrison, trail master Henry Hudson leads members of Harrison’s Friendly Riders Snowmobile Clubs through the same fall routine.

“We run with about 40 members,” Hudson said. “With about 15 of them doing the most work.”

Mollyocket Sportsman’s Club covers the communities of West Paris and Woodstock. Club secretary Tim Brown says that the club has been catching up on trail maintenance after several years of neglect.

“Until last year we didn’t have much help,” Brown said. “We had a lot of work to do and it went right through April. Having to build new trails hasn’t been a big issue for our club, but this year we may need to do some rerouting on one. Another may have to be moved, that would be a complex project for us.”

In addition to the manual work every fall, Mowatt communicates with about 150 landowners to request and maintain permission to cross private lands. Most of Norway Tracker’s 70 miles of local and Interconnected Trail System (ITS) trails have existed for years. But occasionally a landowner will decide to discontinue access for various reasons. When a property changes hands he has to start a new relationship with new owners.

Snowmobile trail maintenance starts in fall and continues right through the season. Emery Warren of West Paris prunes brush in deep snow last winter. Submitted photo

“Sometimes we need to re-route a trail,” he said. “Then we have to get new permissions and sometimes build completely new sections” to make sure they all connect to existing ones. This year the club is moving what Mowatt calls the In-town Trail, which will start at Crockett Ridge and run behind the fire department in Norway.

Harrison’s 40 miles of snowmobile trails include a section of ITS 89, a route within the ITS system that connects to Waterford. Part of the work the Friendly Riders is doing this fall includes digging out and replacing two culverts on ITS 89, as well as rebuilding a 55-foot bridge.

CMP owns more than 20% of the land Friendly Riders’ trails run across, and Loon Echo Tree Farms is another large landowner, which makes public relations less of an issue. Hudson said they work with about 55 property owners for access permission.

Mollyocket has about 30 members, with a third or so actively volunteering on 30 miles of trail. They head out on Sunday mornings during the fall. Some even spend time during the week, Brown said. Having caught up on basic work like pruning, the club is targeting larger maintenance now. It is working on a 25-foot long bridge and tackling culverts.

No grant-funded ITS trails go through West Paris and Woodstock so the snowmobile club shares some trails with ATV riders who provide much-needed help maintaining them. Mollyocket volunteers are hauling their 25-foot bridge replacement out to the water crossing on the trail and a partnering ATV club will set it in place.

Volunteers with Norway Trackers Snowmobile Club tackle snowmobile trail clean-up Oct. 20, trimming brush and removing fallen limbs and trees. Submitted photo

While some clubs have found that partnering with ATV clubs lightens the load, Hudson says the Harrison club goes it alone, especially since the section of the ITS it maintains is snowmobile only.

“Many landowners don’t want the ATVs, so we keep our permissions to sled only,” he said.

Maine’s 14,000 miles of trails are primarily tended to by 290 community clubs. Membership fees account for a small amount of a club’s revenue that it shares with the Maine Snowmobile Association. Clubs also hold fundraisers for operations and special projects. Grants for trail and equipment expenses are provided by the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, which is funded by annual snowmobile registration fees.

Clubs are allotted maintenance allowances based on the number of trail miles they have. The state also awards grants to help pay for trail grooming equipment.

“We paid about $65,000 for our groomer,” Hudson said. “It was 13 years old, we’ve had it since about 2011. I have five guys who are certified to operate it, and as soon as the snow adds up we’re out with the groomer.”

To receive assistance from the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, groomer operators must be certified by the state. It’s a simple process Hudson said, requiring some study of the laws, watching a video and passing a test. But he puts additional restrictions on his operators—they need to maintain and repair the equipment too.

“Anyone wants to groom,” he said. “They must be willing to take care of the groomer.”

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