MADAWASKA – With memories of last year’s record low snowfalls still fresh, organizers of the annual Snowmobile Festival learned last week the only thing worse than not getting what you want is perhaps getting too much of it.
Festival participants who came from as far away as South Carolina and Ontario had more than 30 inches of new snow thanks to two major storms that hit the area last week.
The municipalities of Edmundston, New Brunswick, and Madawaska team up each year to put on the festival.
“The huge amount of snow may have been an actual deterrent,” Andy Daigle, festival president, said Sunday morning at a breakfast in Madawaska. “We got about 3 feet of snow. We had all been praying for snow, but not that much.”
Volunteers from 12 clubs on both sides of the U.S.-Canadian border spent the better part of last week grooming and re-marking trails in the wake of the storms.
“The clubs have worked really hard,” Daigle said. “They busted their butts [and] my hat is off to them.”
In the end, organizers said it was all worth it.
“People are smiling and everyone is having a good time,” Daigle said. “Plus, this is good for the economy of the whole Valley. Snowmobilers don’t come up here with empty pockets and this is a chance for them to enjoy what we have and spend some of that money.”
One of the bigger expenses this year was the price of fuel, which ranged from $1.74 a gallon for regular to $1.98 a gallon for premium in the United States. In Canada, prices were much higher.
Still, it was no deterrent.
“If you play, you have to pay,” Joseph Boyd, a snowmobile enthusiast from Gouldsboro, said Sunday. “Until it gets up to $10 or $15 a gallon, I won’t cut back.”
Carl and Amy Ross of Hampden agreed.
“The gas price just doesn’t matter,” Carl Ross said. “I’m glad it’s not $3 a gallon, but if it was I would still be riding.”
A big draw of the festival is the special weekend passport which, for $15 U.S. funds or $20 Canadian, enables an individual to ride the trails in both countries during the three days of the festival.
“This is international cooperation at its best,” Daigle said. Each year, the governments of Maine and New Brunswick sign an agreement to honor the passports.
This year international events outside of the St. John Valley intruded as security at border crossings was stepped up because of the terror threat level in this country.
Border officials closely scrutinized names and numbers on the festival passports and cross-checked them against a list of preregistrants.
“It really did not slow things down that much,” Daigle said. “Except they could not match my name and passport number because I grabbed my wife’s passport by mistake when I left the house.”
Wilfred “Red” Crossman comes up every year from South Carolina for the festival.
“This is my annual therapy trip,” he said. I’m a ‘Mainiac’ by birth and like the snow and cold.”
But it’s the people, hospitality and trails that keep the former Winterport resident coming. “I love getting out in nature,” Crossman said. “I don’t know how anyone can go out in the Maine woods and deny there is a God.”
Madawaska Town Manager Arthur Faucher rode all day Friday as part of the festival.
“All that snow we had was excellent for the trails,” he said. “The clubs were really well-prepared.”
Ridership was down at the annual snowmobile parade Friday night, from a festival high of close to 500 machines several years ago to just under 100 this year.
Faucher said the tightened border security might have had something to do with that. The parade route begins in Canada and ends in Maine.
Snow and good riding conditions around New England also may have kept some people closer to home, Daigle said.
“I’m already thinking about next year,” Daigle said. “People are telling me they plan to come back.”