AUGUSTA — They came in weather-proof winter gear or in jeans with snowshoes, cross-country skis or just boots. They came for fun, for a bit of a workout, and they came to eat.

The Table Tour at the Viles Arboretum drew more than 300 from across the region to take part in the annual event that puts food and winter fun together for a fundraiser for the arboretum.

Rose Rodrigue has made the trip up a couple of times from her West Gardiner home for the event in the past with snow and without. On Sunday, she met up with Linda Patrie and Bunkie Wilson from Winthrop, Anna Boynton from North Monmouth and Sandi Hodge from Alna.

For the group, the chance to get out on their snowshoes after a winter that has so far provided little snow was the big draw on a day perfect for doing almost anything outdoors — sunny with little wind and temperatures in the high 30s.

“We’ve been waiting for the snow,” Wilson said. While snowshoeing was the primary draw, the women also appreciated the chance to have a meal they didn’t have to cook or clean up after.

The Table Tour, the arboretum’s largest fundraiser of the year, combines a route around the 224-acre facility’s outer loop with one stop for hot chocolate and three stops for food, followed by music and desserts in the Viles Room.

“The food has been excellent,” Rodrigue said.

“Eating is secondary,” Wilson said.

With water bottles, poles, snowshoes, hats, gloves and jackets, they headed out. Despite their different heights, they followed their rule of the trail, matching their pace to the slowest member’s. “That’s me,” Hodge said.

For the event’s 12th year — it’s always on Super Bowl Sunday — arboretum director Mark DesMeules said, “We had a perfect storm.”

All the elements lined up to smash all previous attendance records. “People were dying to get out, but we had no snow, and then we had Friday’s storm,” he said. The snowfall was enough to cover the trail and make it passable for snowshoers and cross-country skiers, and the trail was groomed enough to accommodate the hikers.

“We’ve gotten better over the years at serving the food and keeping it hot,” he said. Fourteen area restaurants donated food, including desserts, breads, gravy and stuffing and chips and salsa. Volunteers cooked soups and chowder, turkey and stuffing and Mexican food to serve along the way.

Volunteers were also on hand to rent skis or snowshoes for those who didn’t have their own.

“It’s a great opportunity to get people here to discover the arboretum. More than half of the people who came had never been here before,” he said.

Although the food stations will be taken down, hearty souls will be able to enjoy more snow at the arboretum and across the region this week as winter settles in for a bit. The snow that fell at the end of last week is expected to get a boost when light snow starts falling across the region Monday evening, thanks to a low pressure system that will skirt the coast and move off northeast.

“We’ll get grazed by the northern fringe of that,” National Weather Service meteorologist Bob Marine said. A big upper level trough to the west will bring additional snow, extending the period of snowfall through Wednesday. “You won’t notice the difference between the storms.”

He estimated 3-5 inches of snow may fall by Wednesday, when the system moves out.

But the bigger change this week will be in the temperature. Monday will be cooler than Sunday, with a high in the high teens or low 20s, and the temperature will continue to drop throughout the week. By next weekend, Marine said, the daytime highs will be only in the upper teens with overnight temperatures even lower.

It will lead to more ice formation, Marine said, and that will help make more ice on the region’s lakes, ponds and rivers.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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