AUGUSTA — The Fox Glen Snowmobile Club sold its clubhouse on the east side of Augusta on last month after years of declining membership.

It could no longer afford the $5,000-to-$7,000 annual cost of maintaining the building on Buck and Doe Trail, and it would have been heading for a bankruptcy filing.

Down from 29 active members to nine over the past 10 years, the group now struggles to do the maintenance required to prepare the trails for the upcoming season.

“It’s dying out; there’s no young blood,” said trail master Mark Lapointe, 61, of Windsor. “We used to host lots of public suppers and landowner suppers. We finally had to dwindle it down to just sending out a note.”

The problem is that the trail system depends on volunteers — a different metric than overall snowmobile membership, which is holding steady; and registrations, which are on the rise.

“To me it’s an indication of how fragile the trail system is,” said Bob Meyers, executive director of the Augusta-based Maine Snowmobile Association, which will be 50 years old in 2018. The association counted 9,466 households as members in 2016-2017, up from 9,125 the previous year. In its heydey around the early 2000s, the membership reached about 11,000 households, he said.

Businesses also belong to the association. There were 2,188 in 2016-2017 and 2,102 the prior season, while 9,800 families and 2,100 businesses post conditions during snowmobiling season.

Mike Barden, of Augusta, took over as treasurer of Fox Glen some 25 years ago. “It’s been a long time,” he said. No one has come forward to take his place, even though he’s doing double-duty as vice president of the Manchester Country Riders. Barden said membership there has dropped some, but it is more active than Fox Glen.

It’s a familiar refrain: The people doing the work to maintain almost 14,000 miles of snowmobile trails are getting older and tired. They find it harder to pick up a chain saw and other tools to work in the woods to clear blow-downs and other debris that might impede the progress of snow machines.

They’re hoping for a transfusion of younger blood, but time is running short.

The Fayette Ridge Riders put out a notice earlier this year saying, “There will be no trails if we don’t get more people.”

“There’s just a core group of people working on it, and the youngster is 65,” said Lisa Andrews, club treasurer.

A few new, younger riders responded to the plea.

“We’ve had a better response with trail maintenance help,” said her husband, John Andrews, who is also the trail master. “People seem to be understanding that it’s important we get some assistance with that.”

Meyers said the industry is worth an estimated $350 million-plus a year. “It’s a huge economic driver in the wintertime,” he said, and the association posts trail conditions during the snowmobiling season.

Volunteers have the job of clearing and grooming some 3,500 miles of the Interconnected Trail System, known as the ITS or the main corridor, and 10,000 to 11,000 miles of local and regional trails.

“We have this huge thing that’s built entirely on the backs of volunteers,” Meyers said. “It’s really cool or really scary.”

He noted that along with maintenance and grooming of trails, the clubs have to be sure they work with the landowners to get access across private property. “These volunteers, they’re so beat up with the relentless pressure to keep it going and bring it up a notch every year,” Meyers said.

Meyers knows a 92-year-old man in Mattawamkeag who grooms trails.

“We don’t see the young people coming up,” Meyers said. What he hears are complaints when the trails are less than satisfactory.

Those calls are waiting for him when he opens the office on Mondays in winter. “The trails are terrible,” the callers say. “What are you going to do about it?”

Meyers said his answer depends on how they answer his question: “What club do you belong to?”

The North Augusta Trailblazers are meeting this month to discuss selling the clubhouse on Burns Road, but the club itself will remain in existence. Based on the west side of the capital city, it has about 25 members.

“The young kids, we’ve waited too long for them; they’re not interested,” said Yvon Doyon, president and a former trail master of the North Augusta Trailblazers, “I’m a big snowmobiler, but I do go to Florida now. I want out.”

Doyon said the trail system the Trailblazers maintain will stay open a little longer, “until everyone gets done.”

“Some morning the trails are going to be closed, and the people that do ride and don’t do anything (to work on the trails) will say, ‘What’s going on?'”

The Pittston Prowlers posted a Facebook message on Thursday night saying, “Want to ride the snowmobile trails in Pittston this winter? Before we can do that help is needed to clear the trails.” A work detail was scheduled for 8:30 a.m. today, starting at the Pittston Fire Station.

In contrast to those clubs essentially begging for help, the Anson-North Anson Snowmobile Club experienced something a little different when they went out to do trail work after the Oct. 29-30 windstorm that hit central Maine and took out trees and electricity.

Eight volunteers — four older people and four younger people — gathered to do the initial trip out, and a dozen showed up Nov. 26 for another trip to cut a 1.5-mile reroute on the Anson-Starks trail.

“We ended up with a lot of hands, a lot of chain saws and a lot of work gotten done over the past few weeks,” said Larry Hannon, 72, of Scarborough, who has taken over some work for Harvey Williams, 87, the club’s official trail master.

“This year and the last couple of years, multiple people have been stepping up to the plate and doing the work,” Hannon said, including some locals and some people like him who have camps in the area. “I think it’s coming around. Our club is very solid, and we have a lot of very good, devoted people.”

He said the club-maintained 37 miles of trails is ready for riding.

Hannon credited the volunteers and “to the understanding and generous landowners.”

And in the fall of 2013, about 55 people turned out when the Abnaki Sno-Riders Snowmobile Club in Madison threatened to close because of lack of participation in its efforts to maintain 50 miles of trails.

That club posted Facebook photos of trail cleanup done in mid-November this year where about two dozen people showed up to participate.

The interest in snowmobiling is finicky, rising with the height of snowbanks and falling when the ground stays green for much of the winter. For instance, resident snowmobile registrations declined about 16,000 in the winter of 2015-2016 when the snow failed to remain in place for long.

Last winter, where central Maine had about 140 to 150 inches of snow all season, according to the National Weather Service, 60,862 resident snowmobiles were registered, making up part of the 85,035 registrations that included nonresident and fee-exempt ones, according to figures from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries & Wildlife.

Over the past 25 years, total snowmobile registrations hit a peak of 107,285 in 2002-2003 and dropped to a low of 59,111 in 2015-16.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

Twitter: @betadams


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