Falmouth snowmobilers chill as warm weather pervades

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FALMOUTH — For enthusiasts of snow and cold weather, it hasn’t exactly been a winter wonderland this year.

The same can be said for the the Falmouth Sno-Voyagers snowmobile club, whose season usually begins in January. With New Year’s Day barely a week away, the ground remains soft and without much snow.

“What’s different is it really hasn’t gotten real cold, so the ground hasn’t frozen up. And when the snow does come, it doesn’t usually stay as long,” club President Sam Smiley said.

He added if water doesn’t freeze that means it’s getting onto the trails, which means there are fewer spots to cross via snowmobile than if it were frozen.

According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, frozen soil is waterproof, and thus acts like a layer of concrete when snow has piled up on top of it. But because of above-average temperatures and rain, the ground has not been acting like a layer of concrete.

While it’s not unheard of to have so little snow so far into December, Smiley said the warmer weather is definitely atypical.

So what do the Sno-Voyagers do in the winter when there isn’t any snow?

“We just hang out,” Smiley joked. He said club members keep busy until the ground freezes and the snow comes by taking care of trails. They clean up downed trees and branches, and post signs.

“We usually start at the end of October getting trails ready,” he said.

The Sno-Voyagers, who had 38 members last year, have been a club since 1975. There are more than 40 miles of trails in Falmouth alone, but the club also connects with surrounding clubs and towns like Windham and Gorham.

Smiley said the club has been working with Bob Shafto, the town’s open space ombudsman, to support open space for snowmobiling. He said there was some concern this year that a trail that runs over a homeowner’s property would be lost.

But thanks to the town’s plan to acquire 100 acres of land this winter, this ended up not being the case, and the trail remains.

“I know we’re always talking with land owners to make sure their concerns are met and we’re not doing things that upset them, because it is their land,” he said.

Smiley, who works at Unum as an assistant consultant, is in his first year as president of the club. He said a lot of what he does in that role includes dealing with membership, volunteers and paperwork. He has been a member of the club for four or five years, but is not new to snowmobiling.

On a snowmobile, he said, “you get to see a lot of places you wouldn’t normally get to see.”

Smiley also said the length of the season always varies. Last year there was plenty of snow and the trails stayed open for a long time. The year before, though, there was a a rain storm in January “and that was pretty much it.”

“As long as there’s enough snow, we’ll open as soon as we can and stay open,” Smiley said.

Colin Ellis can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @colinoellis.

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Sam Smiley, president of the Falmouth Sno-Voyagers, stands on Hanks Trail off the Gray Road. He said while it is not that strange to have so little snow at this time of year, the warm temperatures are a particular problem for snowmobilers. If the temperatures remain above normal, the ground can’t freeze, which means snow that falls doesn’t last long.

This bridge over a snowmobile trail known as Hanks Trail near Route 26 and Route 100 in Falmouth. Underneath it is a running stream.

Reporter covering the Portland Public School District as well as the town of Falmouth for The Forecaster. Can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 123 or cellis@theforecaster.net.