Volunteers work on one of three bridges they repaired earlier this month to get snowmobile trails in New Gloucester ready for riding. The Royal River Riders Snowmobile Club asks that all vehicles stay off the trails until they are posted open. Check the club’s Facebook page for updates.
STANDISH — Local snowmobile clubs are ready for more snow, but what they really need is younger members.
“I fear clubs like ours – in the next few years, I don’t know if they’ll still be there,” said Standish Sno-Seekers president Jim Durgin. “We don’t have anybody young.”
Durgin is 56 and said “frankly, that’s young” for the Standish club, which he speculated would draw 25-30 family memberships this year.
The club is trying to adapt to attract new members.
“We probably should do some things to make more of a social thing,” Durgin said.
The Standish club has considered moving its meetings from Town Hall to a local restaurant in hopes of appealing to a younger demographic.
Durgin speculated that some young snowmobilers prefer to ride off-trail, and that “their interest in the trails is just not that great.”
Gary Drew, president of the Crooked River Snowmobile Club in Casco, said he doesn’t see younger snowmobilers carrying their share of the load.
“Just wish the younger generation would step up,” Drew said. “Because it’s their future of snowmobiling.”
Harry Segars, trail master of the Royal River Riders in New Gloucester, said his club has been able to draw some members in their 20s but is still having problems engaging teenagers and younger kids.
“We don’t have any kids, we don’t have any younger folks,” Segars said, stressing the importance of getting people interested in the sport – and the responsibilities that come with it – at an early age.
Drew added that more people need to get involved in order to “help keep the sport going and help maintain the trails.”
According to Drew, a “whole lot of work” goes into preparing trails. He estimated maintenance costs each year on the Casco club’s approximately 42-mile trail network are between $5 ,000 and $10,000 dollars.
That work includes cutting any trees that have fallen across the trails, fixing washouts and repairing bridges.
Drew said its not uncommon that “mother nature delivers quite a blow to us.” The club is “constantly repairing” bridges, he said.
“You need work parties, particularly in the fall,” Durgin explained, singling out this year’s late October wind storm that “caused a heck of a mess” for the Standish trails this year.
Segars said that while the New Gloucester club has been able to draw the 20-something crowd once winter arrives, it also needs help in the warmer months to clear and make repairs on the roughly 23 miles of trails.
“We’re having a little bit of luck once the snow hits the ground,” said Segars, but it’s late summer and early fall when help is most needed.
Drew emphasized that only a “handful” of people help with maintenance efforts and lamented that “the younger generation is just not stepping up to help out.”
The Casco group, based out of their clubhouse on Route 11, is trying to launch more club events “to try to get it more family orientated,” he said.
The Crooked River club’s website says that more than 300 snowmobiles are registered in Casco, but Drew says the club draws only a fraction of that number.
“On a good year, we’ll have somewhere around 35,” he said about membership, adding that numbers can dip down to 15 or 20 members in a bad snow year.
Segars hopes the New Gloucester trail system, which requires about 16 inches of snow, will be open in the first or second week of January. He estimated that the club has slightly more than 20 members.
According to the website of the Maine Snowmobile Association, a statewide group that works with local clubs to help oversee Maine’s thousands of miles of snowmobile trails, snowmobile registrations for the 2016-2017 season had eclipsed 85,000 in August. That’s an increase of 44 percent from the previous year according the MSA, bolstered in part by a spike in out-of-state registrations.
Drew thinks the state should mandate some sort of local club membership as part of the snowmobile registration process.
Durgin also mentioned the idea of tying registration and club membership together, speculating that it would help local clubs’ membership and finances but may not solve the problem of people not being actively involved.
“That’s still not going to help your manpower,” Durgin said.
While costs in the Standish club are $35 for a family membership, Durgin said the group has been willing to knock the price down to $25 for a younger individual wanting to join on their own.
Both Drew and Durgin said membership and the opening of trails are tied to snow conditions, with membership usually up in good snow years and season start dates dependent on the amount of snow.
Drew said the Casco group tries to avoid damaging any homeowners’ property along the trail by waiting until there is between 18 inches and 2 feet on snow on the ground, and the group is hoping to open its trails sometime in January.
Durgin said the Standish club is already opening some gates and, depending on the next week’s forecast, could open before the end of the year.
Durgin said he’s been the Sno-Seekers’ president for more than a decade and hasn’t been able to find anyone willing take over the position. However, he is encouraged by the recent addition of one younger member, and hopes more will follow.
Shane Davis, 29, says that others should consider joining the Standish club in part because “it’s a lot of fun” and “you learn a lot.”
“I figured I’d try to do my part and help out,” said Davis, of Gorham. “Plus, many of the members are all people up there in age – I’m just looking (at) who’s going to take care of the club.”
Matt Junker can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @MattJunker.