KINGFIELD — Kingfield Sno-Wanderers Trail Master Jim Boyce of Freeman Township used the blade of the Bombardier BR400 groomer to push snow into a low-lying area that had been stripped to mud. As the machine passed over the freshly moved snow, he dropped the drag behind the machine to further fill in the problem spot. The groomer and the drag helped compact the snow, making the once bare and rocky section of trail smooth.

“We are making roads in the woods,” Boyce said. “It is just like paving only instead of hot top, we use white stuff.”

The snowmobile season, like the spot he had just filled in, had been off to a rocky start. At best, there had been only a thin covering of snow on the 60 or so miles of trails in the club’s jurisdiction.

A two-day wallop of winter weather Thursday and Friday, Feb. 6 and 7, finally changed trail conditions enough that Boyce planned the first full grooming effort of the season.

The club is one of about 280 clubs that make up the Maine Snowmobile Association. MSA clubs maintain 14,500 miles of trails throughout the state.

The view from the heated cab of one of the Kingfield Sno-Wanderers groomer is not one many people have the opportunity to enjoy, said club trail master Jim Boyce. Dee Menear/Franklin Journal

I joined Boyce Friday night for a ride in the groomer to learn about what goes into making a snowmobile trail.

Any recreational trail starts with landowner permission. Once permission is granted, trails are cut and maintained. Typically, trails stay the same year after year but sometimes they need to be rerouted.

“Sometime property will be sold and the new owner isn’t receptive to the trail,” he said. “Other times, long-time landowners close the trail down because a few folks don’t respect the property.”

Riding off trail and leaving trash behind are two reasons landowners might decide to shut down their property, he said.

Boyce makes a point to build strong relationships with landowners. He connects with them often to see if there is anything that needs attention. “Without them, we wouldn’t have these trails,” he said.

The drag smooths snow for prime snowmobiling conditions. Dee Menear/Franklin Journal

As we rode southwesterly through woods and fields, he knew who owned each piece of property we crossed. More than that, he knew the history of ownership and which parcels were up for sale. “I have to stay on top of that kind of stuff,” he said.

He is proactive in reminding snowmobilers to avoid potential issues with landowners. “It’s usually only a few who think boundaries don’t apply to them,” he said. “One frustrated landowner is all it takes to shut a trail down. If it is a major section of trail on a large parcel, we may not have the opportunity to reroute.”

He is not afraid to place sign after sign in problem areas reminding snowmobilers to keep it between the lines and stay on the trail. In fact, Boyce is a proponent of using signs to identify trails, mark potential hazards, blind spots, stops, or to generally remind riders of snowmobiling rules and etiquette.

“You can never have enough signs,” he said.

Kingfield Sno-Wanderers Snowmobile Club trail master Jim Boyce of Freeman Township. Dee Menear/Franklin Journal Buy this Photo

He has also placed trash cans, which he regularly empties, in areas where snowmobilers are known to stop for a break.

“It’s all about keeping the landowners happy,” he said.

As we traveled, we came upon a group of riders. The snowmobilers pulled slightly off the trail to make way for us. Boyce, a personable individual by nature, opened the door of the heated cab to greet the first one in line.

“Go easy,” he cautioned. “The trails haven’t set up yet.”

Grooming makes trails smooth but it takes colder temperatures than we experienced that night to “set” the snow. The cold forces air out of the snowpack and helps solidify the base, he explained.

We made our way to Allen’s Pinnacle, a Freeman Township overlook that peaks at 1,600-feet above sea level. In the summer, fully-dressed trees block the view of the valley beyond. In the winter, after trees have shed their leaves, the overlook lends a spectacular daytime view of northern Franklin County mountains.  We arrived that evening too late to take in the view. The last of the storm was moving out and, as the cloud cover slipped away, we were treated to a bright display of a nearly-full Snow Moon.

“This is what it is all about,” Boyce said as we stepped out of the groomer to stretch our legs. “Not many people get to enjoy this. I love it.”

Boyce went on to make a pass over Rusty’s Trail. The trail, he said, is named after an autistic individual who was in an unfortunate crash nearly a decade ago. “The crash was pretty traumatic for him and his family,” Boyce said. “He is recovered and I see him on the trail once in a while. We decided after the crash, the trail was Rusty’s. He was thrilled when we told him we were going to dedicate it to him.”

Boyce is certified to operate the groomer. “It’s not just something you can jump into and go,” he said. “You have to know what you are doing and you have to be able to troubleshoot mechanical issues.”

In fact, the groomer lost power several times causing it to stop suddenly in its tracks. “It’s the cutoff for the emergency brake,” Boyce said after checking a few gauges. “The doors rattle and the sensor thinks the door is open so it shuts down the engine.”

With the issue resolved, we continued on our way.

Boyce groomed the heavily traveled interval trails near the clubs ‘sled shed’ before heading to his final project of the night. “Have to make sure the kids are happy,” he said with a smile. “They will be out tomorrow, for sure.”

The club grooms Gilmore Hill and Little Baker Hill, popular sledding hills located on Route 27 just south of town. “I put out a picnic table and a trash can,” he said. “I like to make it as welcoming as possible for families.”

Nearly four and a half hours and 40 miles or so later, Boyce parked the groomer back at the sled shed and began making preparations for the next morning. He and another groomer would head out early to groom trails to the north and east, he said.

Trail work continues long after snow has melted, he added. There is always brush that needs trimming and bridges that need repairing.

Boyce doesn’t collect a paycheck for the 1,400 hours or so he puts in each year. Neither do the handful of others who work on the trails. Every minute is on a volunteer basis. The club receives a grant from Maine Snowmobile Association for time spent on the trail, money that goes into maintaining and fueling groomers.

“I do it because I love it but we could always use a helping hand,” Boyce said. “It’s a different world out there on the trails. I am privileged to have a view not many get to see.”

Kingfield Sno-Wanderers will host a public breakfast on Sunday, Feb. 16, at Kingfield Elementary School, 102 Salem Rd. The all-you-can-eat breakfast will run from 8 to 10 a.m. Adults are $8, children ages 6 to 12 are $4, and children under 6 are free.

For more information about the club, upcoming events, or to volunteer, call Boyce at 265-6512 or find Sno-Wanderers Snowmobile Club on Facebook.

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