FRANKLIN COUNTY – The unusual winter weather in Maine this year has made for a difficult and potentially short snowmobiling season, taking a toll on snowmobile clubs and related businesses.
Rain in December caused damage to a lot of the trails across the region, requiring repairs before the season could get started. The subsequent heavy snow of early to mid January, followed by several weeks of no snow, only made maintaining trails and getting in good riding days more difficult, according to High Peaks Alliance board member Dana Bowman. “If we don’t get new snow soon, the season’s gonna come to an end,” said Bowman.
Bill Cafarelli, owner of trailside cafe and warming stop Cafe’relli’s in New Portland, hasn’t had as many struggles as other locations. “Our trail system is pretty good compared to others, how trails have shut down. Our trails haven’t shut down, but as far as weather goes with the trail systems, you know, they dampened our trails.”
Cafarelli’s co-trail groomer John Fernald added that with the weather, they haven’t had as many weekends, nor have they been as busy as in past years. This past weekend was only the 4th of the season that the trail systems have been open. Still, the overall impact on Cafe’relli’s hasn’t been as big as it might otherwise have been. “The name has gotten out there so, as far as really affecting Cafe’relli’s, no, it hasn’t. We’re about the same as we were last year but our membership has grown,” said Cafarelli.
It appears the increased membership is the only reason that Cafe’relli’s has maintained steady business rather than seeing a decrease. Cafarelli attributes the growth to their regular social media posts, and to people getting the cafe’s name out there to other snowmobilers. This is particularly good because, while Cafe’relli’s provides food for snowmobilers, it’s the snowmobilers themselves who provide the donations that allow, not only the cafe to continue, but also for it to achieve its primary goal: being able to make donations to food pantries, currently working with Good Shepherd.
Cafarelli said that Cafe’relli’s should be making a donation to The Good Shepherd in the next week or so.
Fernald and Cafarelli expressed concern about the trails with the warm weather over this weekend, with Fernald adding, “The more people stay home, the longer the trails will last, but they won’t, they’ll ride.”
Cafarelli holds out hope that the storm predicted for this coming Tuesday might allow for a refresh of the trails, but if not, all three men predicted that the season might come to an early close.
Bowman held a summit after the December 18 flooding for local snowmobile/ATV clubs to decide how to repair the trails and proceed with the season. If the season continues as it has, they may have another summit in early March to plan for future seasons.
The weather isn’t Bowman’s only concern about the future of snowmobiling, though. He says funding and manpower are the biggest concerns for the clubs, especially since the trail groomers throughout the state are primarily volunteers. He does have another concern, though: young blood.
“It’s a great sport, it has a great economic impact, but you know, we have to start getting kids involved or it’s not going to be here, because it’s all volunteers who build these trails,” said Bowman, expressing a desire to get more clubs in schools so that children can grow up with an interest in the sport as well as the knowledge of how to maintain their vehicles and groom the trails.
Cafarelli and Fernald expressed more hope for the future, though, as they looked at the generosity of the snowmobilers they have encountered. “Snowmobile people are more than generous people, they give the most,” said Fernald.
Local snowmobile clubs and the trail system across the state relies on donations, volunteers, and landowner permission to run trails across privately-owned land. Getting involved in clubs helps support snowmobiling now and in the future.