EAST ORLAND — For more than a decade, Peter Kenney of Bar Harbor has been trying to grow the sport of snowshoe racing in eastern Maine.

But at the first sanctioned qualifier for the United States National Snowshoe Championship on Jan. 22 in Orland, just 14 racers showed. Kenney, who is heading to the national championship for the second time, is not giving up.

Kenney was living in western Massachusetts during a boon in snowshoe racing in the late 1990s. He was turned on to the racing snowshoes made by Bob Dion of Vermont, a trail running legend. Dion is not only a national champion in snowshoe racing, but the designer of a racing snowshoe that can be custom fit.

Kenney was taken with the sport, and brought it to eastern Maine in 2002.

The loosely formed Acadia Trail Runners, led by Kenney, run two snowshoe races every year and a trail running contest in the fall, usually at the Great Mountain Wildlands preserve in Orland. The 4,300-acre Wildlands is the flagship preserve of the Great Pond Mountain Conservation Trust.

“Here it’s a little more like the Wild West,” said snowshoe racer Ryan King of Stockton Spring. “We don’t have the breadth of runners. Everyone goes to the trail races in southern Maine. We have to offer alternatives. We want to bring competitive snowshoeing to eastern Maine.”

Maine has a rich snowshoeing history.

A century ago, Maine was a hub of snowshoe racing. In the 1920s, Lewiston had two dozen snowshoe clubs and was the site of snowshoe conventions that featured parades and concerts. The first international snowshoe congress was held in Lewiston in 1925. The clubs had French names and their programs were written in French.

Snowshoe clubs in Maine had hundreds of members in other Franco-American communities. They were social clubs that operated year round.

What Kenney is trying to do in eastern Maine is a bit different, less cultured, more outback. But he’d love the hundreds who used to attend the races in Lewiston and Auburn. It’s why Kenney goes to the national championship in Colorado, where a 6.2-mile course climbs to elevations of 9,000 feet.

These days, Minnesota, New York and Connecticut dominate the national field.

The Acadia Trail Runners, meanwhile, have yet to spread snowshoe racing mania through eastern Maine.

“It’s always on the small side. This is typical,” said Cheri Domina, the trust’s executive director, as she looked around at the small crowd at last Sunday’s race in Orland.

The race this year took runners up a mountain in 2 to 4 inches of snow, on hiking trails and horse paths that are well cleared and marked, but still light on traffic.

But Kenney’s followers are passionate, including 80-year-old contestants and guys racing in January with tank tops.

Kenney gives out Dion racing snowshoes in a drawing at the end, doing everything he can to hook trail runners into the sport.

The regulars are still hopeful it will catch on, but this year of light snow was just not the year for it to happen.

“We try to grow it a little every year,” said Tom Kirby of Ellsworth. “But not a lot of people are out snowshoeing this winter. They’re running snowshoe races in New Hampshire. We chase it around. We got two to three new people this year, but the big thing is having decent snow.”


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