Mixed signs after record mild winter

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Staff photo by Tess Wrobleski Kate Cutting, an employee at Jordan's Store in Standish home during break from the University of Maine, holds bait for open-water fishing. Although the mild winter precluded ice-fishing activities, the business made up for it in other ways.

With budget season under way, town officials are pleased to see some of the savings brought by a mild winter.

The lack of snow and prolonged frigid temperatures have saved towns money on sand and salt, as well as overtime for employees hired to perform winter road maintenance.

This might suggest that businesses that rely on cold, snow and ice to generate demand would be suffering. Yet for some, the season has been surprisingly lucrative.

Drew McConnell, who owns a business for plowing, sanding and roof shoveling called ME Winter Services with his brother, Garrett McConnell, agreed that the plowing business “was horrible.”

Yet, his bottom line hasn’t taken much of a toll.

McConnell has stayed busy with his carpentry business, DM Carpentry. He’s in the process of building four different houses in Windham, Raymond, Portland and Gorham, he said.

The mild winter “didn’t bother me,” he added, as he’d “rather be building houses” than plowing.

As for finances, he said, “it was just as good a year, if not better.”

He said his situation is unique compared with “landscapers or plowers who don’t have anything else to rely on” during their off months.

While McConnell said he was content to build instead of plow, there’s one thing he did miss – snowmobiling.

An avid snowmobiler, McConnell said he only had a chance to get out on his sled four times this season, and it was always in Canada.

He was disappointed, he said, but added he “mostly felt bad for the businesses in Northern Maine that rely on snowmobile tourism.”

Jordan's Store
Staff photo by Tess Wrobleski Kate Cutting, an employee at Jordan’s Store in Standish home during break from the University of Maine, holds bait for open-water fishing. Although the mild winter precluded ice-fishing activities, the business made up for it in other ways.

At Jordan’s Store in Standish, manager Gregory Cutting said the lack of ice on Sebago Lake impacted the sale of bait and tackle for ice fishing, but “even though there was no ice fishing, the mild winter kept people out and about more than they were last year.”

The increase in sales of food items in the general store meant that “business was overall good even though bait and tackle were down,” he said.

The big bay on Sebago only froze over completely for one day this season. Cutting said the lake froze in the morning, and he went out in the late afternoon.

“I went for a couple hours just to say I went,” he said, “but I would usually go out a lot more than that. When the lake is frozen and safe I go out there any chance I get.”

Yet, he pointed out that a bad season for ice fishing meant the ice on Sebago was quick to disappear this year, interest in open-water fishing has started a little earlier than usual.

Cutting has already started to stock open-water fishing supplies in his store, including a couple baits he said are prime lure for salmon.

The lack of ice fishing had negative consequences for derbies in the area, including the Sebago Lake Derby and the Crystal Lake Derby, which were both canceled this year due to a lack of ice. Most recently, the Kid’s Derby, scheduled for March 8, was canceled due to poor ice conditions.

When the Sebago Lake Derby, which is sponsored by the Sebago Rotary Club, was canceled mid-February, Rotary Club president Deb McPhail said she was “terribly disappointed.”

“We work on it for a good eight months,” she said. “It’s a lot of effort to get it all geared up and arranged.”

The derby raises money for the Good Shepherd Food Bank, Camp Sunshine, and a number of other charities. When the derby is canceled, the charities receive some funds, but not as much as they would if the event were held.

On Thursday, the Natural Resources Council of Maine held a news conference to talk about the consequences of the warm winter on winter outdoor events.

According to a Judy Berk, communications director for the Natural Resources Council, it was the warmest winter on record in Maine and the rest of the lower 48.

“The warm temperatures stem from changing climate conditions that are impacting Maine and threatening our beloved winter recreation traditions, including ice fishing, skiing, snowmobiling, and sledding, among other winter events that families have enjoyed for decades,” said Berk in a news release.

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