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Snowmobile trails likely to survive rain, thaw

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Snowmobilers in central Aroostook County have been riding in many places for almost a month, and the trails are entering prime conditions.   

“At this point, the trails are great,” said Matt Farnham, president of the Aroostook River Snowmobile Club, which maintains 46 miles of Interconnected Trail System 88 following the Aroostook River from Ashland to Presque Isle.

The 2016-2017 winter offered four-plus months of snowmobiling in the region, with the Aroostook River Snowmobile Club grooming from Dec. 3 to April 12 and the trails were “still rideable for another two weeks after that,” Farnham said.

This year, the Aroostook River Snowmobile Club and other clubs have been grooming trails since the middle of December. After weeks of bitter-cold temperatures and storms that brought seasonal snowfall to more than 30 inches, many trail systems have a good base for the season, although thaws and winter rains pose challenges to maintaining winter snowmobile and ski trail systems.

The National Weather Service is forecasting up to half-an-inch of rain during a two-day window of above-freezing temperatures Jan. 11 and 12, with temperatures possibly reaching into the upper 40s.   

By sponsoring ads on this snowmobile trail sign, numerous area businesses helped The Aroostook River Snowmobile Club buy this new $220,000 Tucker Sno-Cat trail groomer. (Courtesy of Aroostook River Snowmobile Club)

Farnham said the snowmobile trails shouldn’t be too heavily impacted by this thaw, as long as the temperatures drop back down below freezing.

“The amount of rain we’re supposed to get shouldn’t be a big problem,” Farnham said.

The biggest problem with a rain or thaw can be when the trails are heavily-travelled before a grooming machine can smooth and compact the trails in freezing temperatures, he said, urging riders to “tread lightly.”

Based out of a clubhouse in Castle Hill, the Aroostook River Snowmobile Club has someone grooming every night, covering their their 46 miles of the ITS 88 system over the course of the two days.

This year, they’re enjoying the work with a new Tucker Sno-Cat trail groomer, Farnham said.

“Numerous area businesses have helped us with that purchase through sponsorship of our sign board that is at a critical intersection of our trails,” Farnham said.

The club spent 10 years planning and saving for the purchase of the $220,000 machine, Farnham said. State grants covered $30,000, while the other $190,000 “has come from hard work and great area business support.”

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