OXFORD HILLS — Many snowmobile clubs in the Oxford Hills are fighting through debris-laced trails and frigid temperatures to get local trails groomed for the 2018 season.
While some clubs have been able to get enough volunteers to clear debris and groom the trails, others have struggled to get the help they need, resulting in a small amount of people doing the work of many.
Rob Mowatt, president of the Norway Trackers Snowmobile Club, said that he and other members of the club spent much of the fall doing trail work and cleaning up the trails to prepare for winter.
“We thought we were in good shape, but the recent ice storm we had a couple of weeks back laid over a bunch of trees and made most of the trails impassable,” he said.
Mowatt said that after the ice storm, he rode 20 miles of the trail and was “devastated at the amount of work that had to be done.”
“We’ve worked through this past weekend to get some of the trails cleaned, but there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done,” Mowatt said.
He said that the trails are open to riders, but that they should use “extreme caution,” as there are “trees and branches hanging low, and there’s not enough snow coverage to hide the rocks and stumps.”
Mowatt said that Norway is “not alone” in dealing with trails laden with branches and low-hanging trees.
“We’re all in the same boat, and while we were pretty discouraged at first, we’re just going to keep picking away at the trails until they’re fully groomed,” he said.
Todd Schmieks, president and co-trail master of the Oxford Rock-O-Dundee Riders, said that the trails in Oxford are “open,” but cautioned riders that they are “not groomed or anything like that.”
“You can ride on them, but that’s about it,” he said. “Nobody’s been on the trail yet. Everything underneath the snow that fell over Christmas hasn’t frozen yet. I think after the new year, it’ll be a different story.”
Schmieks said that there are “still some areas where we need to put signs up.”
“This is actually a little early for us to be opening trails,” Schmieks said. “Last year, I think it was the end of January when we first started grooming with the big machines. We’re way ahead for our area. After this weekend, with the cold weather, we should be able to get things cleared and we’ll be rock-and-roll ready.”
Mark Fox, who has served as president of the Streaked Mountaineers Snowmobile Club in Buckfield for the last several years, said that he believes “this winter has the potential to be a very good year, in terms of riding.”
“As of right now, the snow (on the trails) is light and fluffy, so there’s not a great base,” Fox said. “We had heavier, wet snow last year. There are still a lot of places that the snow is shallow.”
However, with the recent bout of frigid temperatures throughout the state, Fox said that there “should be a good frost in now.”
“A good heavy wet storm would be the best thing right now,” he added.
Fox said that the storm that swept across Maine on Oct. 29, leaving hundreds of thousands of people without power, also wreaked havoc on the town’s trails.
“That storm, combined with some of the ice we’ve gotten from recent snowstorms, has brought down a lot of trees,” Fox said. “We went out on ATV’s and cleared some of the trails, but there’s still some trees that are hanging low.”
While riders are able to use the trails despite not being fully groomed, Fox said that “most people know to stay off the trails until they’re fully cleared.”
Steve Brill, trailmaster of the Bridgton Easy Riders Snowmobile Club, said that “help” has been in demand by a lot of the smaller clubs in the area ever since the snow first fell.
“Our club has four to six people who do all of the work, which isn’t a lot, and some clubs have even less,” Brill said. “Help has definitely been a problem.”
The trails in Bridgton “have a lot of ice on trees,” Brill said, which causes the trees to hang low and block the trails.
“We’re working on the trails, picking away one at a time,” he said. “We already have 100 hours logged in, and I suspect that it’s going to take another 100, if not 200, hours to finish.”
Brill compared the condition of the trails to the Ice Storm in 1998.
“It’s not as widespread, but we still got hit really hard,” he said.
Members of the Poland Sno Travelers Snowmobile Club wrote on the club’s Facebook page that many of the trails have been groomed or are in the process of being groomed.
“Ride carefully,” one member wrote. “It is still early in the season. It may seem like a lot of snow, but when it’s groomed, there are still bare spots and some holes that don’t have enough snow to fill.”
According to the Facebook page of the South Paris Snowhoppers Snowmobile Club, most of the trails in town “are passable,” though “there are still a lot of branches hanging in the trails.”
The club warned riders who use the trails to “use extreme caution” and “keep an eye open for stumps, rocks and water holes.”
One of the members of the club said that a group of people would be doing trail maintenance heading into the new year.
According to the Facebook page of Greenstock Snowsports in Greenwood, the trails in Greenwood are still being groomed and prepared.
The trailmaster urged riders to “ride with caution,” as some of the trails still have running water and debris.