|Aroostook Republican photo/Natalie De La Garza
Former Councilor Mary Kate Barbosa, at right, was presented a plaque during the last meeting of the Caribou City Council on May 13 by Mayor Gary Aiken.
By Natalie De La Garza
CARIBOU — The snow may have melted, but members of the Caribou Snowmobile Club are thinking ahead to next season; during the last meeting of the Caribou City Council on May 13, the club apprised the councilors of the current snowmobile groomer situation — and the hefty price tag that potentially comes along with it.
The city currently has two snowmobile groomers which work a combined 1,400-1,500 hours per winter grooming the snowmobile trails.
“Back in 1990, I never thought, prior to that, that two groomers would be required — but now, it’s a business,” explained Superintendent of the Caribou Parks and Recreation Department Kathy Mazzuchelli, citing regional municipalities that also operate two groomers, like Presque Isle, Fort Kent and Van Buren. “They all operate two groomers because they’re grooming seven days a week, roughly, and they all have somewhere between 70 to 120 miles of trails … most of those trails are groomed two through five times a week because they have to, or they lose the [trail] system.”
Two sides of the spectrum were shared with the council — business owners who expressed that snowmobiling is good for business and good for the city, and others who felt that “snowmobiling is an activity by a special interest group which generates limited economic activity to a very small number of Caribou businesses,” as Paul Camping told the councilors. “We must be very conservative with the way we spend our money, especially with the potential to lose our state revenue sharing is looming on the horizon. But more importantly, how can we ask the superintendent of schools to sharpen his pencil and slash his budget by $177,000 while we spend the near equivalent on a toy for snowmobilers?”
With $129,840 in the trail groomer reserve account, the Snowmobile Club recommended the purchase a T7-170 New Holland tractor with a Soucy Trac Kit and a Mountain Equipment drag for $167,424 — a price that includes the trade-in for the 2003 Gilbert groomer that has been giving club members problems over the last two seasons.
“It’s been a struggle really, a lot of it had to do with that track system and it was a bad system,” Mazzuchelli said. “They made corrections, we didn’t know about it and we spent a lot of money trying to get back – but we’re burning sliders like crazy.”
Mazzuchelli informed council that in 2011, the club probably accrued about $30,000 in repairs. This year, it ran around $20,000 in repairs, but due to the light winter, the groomers put in about 700 hours preparing the snowmobile trails — about half the time it would take to groom the trails during a normal Aroostook winter.
Utilizing potential grants plus the designated trail groomer reserve account, the purchase was estimated to still fall about $7,500 short of the new groomer’s price tag.
Council questioned how other communities purchased groomers, and Mazzuchelli cited Greenville and Rangley.
“Pretty near every community up here has contributed to the snowmobile club to purchase groomers — they have to … because at 200,000 and some odd dollars for a groomer, everyone understands its an economic tool for the communities,” Mazzuchelli explained, describing the impact that comes with not grooming the snowmobile trails. “If we depended on just the snowmobile clubs going out and having hot dog roasts and chicken barbecues to purchase $200,000 pieces of equipment, it just isn’t going to happen.”
Councilor Aaron Kouhopt asked Mazzuchelli if snowmobiling was the number-one tourist attraction to Caribou in the wintertime, and she informed him that it was.
“We’ve worked with the University of Southern Maine to do an economic impact analysis, and in Caribou — just in Caribou — in a 12 to 13 week season, you’re talking about a $3.5 million economic impact to the community and sustaining probably somewhere between 87 and 93 jobs,” Mazzuchelli explained.
Charged with trying to fundraise the $7,500 shortfall, the snowmobile club is slated to speak with the council again in August — no decision on the groomer was arrived upon.
As discussion about the groomer concluded, Mazzuchelli took the opportunity to highlight two of the dedicated volunteers that keep Caribou’s snowmobile trails pristine.
“I can tell you that [Dwight Stickles and Marvin Hedstrom] have been involved with snowmobiling in Caribou forever, but when I came into this job in ‘76 when the city moved over to large groomers, you can’t even fathom how many volunteer hours this crew puts in to making this a successful and viable economic tool for businesses here in Caribou,” she said, crediting the volunteers. “I want to extend ‘thank-you’s’ to them, for sure.”
The next meeting of the Caribou City Council is slated to take place on Monday, June 10 at 7 p.m. in the Councilors’ Chambers.