Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Tale of a Trailmaster

Most Mainers hunkered down today, waiting out the latest snowstorm that has pounded states from the Midwest to the Northeast.

Not Jim Yearwood.

As darkness falls, Yearwood is climbing into the cab of a turbodiesel Tucker Terra 2000 Sno-Cat.

He will spend the next nine hours grooming miles of snowmobile trails leading to and from The Forks, the small Somerset County plantation of about 35 residents that bustles this time of year with sledders of all ages.

Given the snowfall expected from this latest storm, it is a process he will most likely repeat tomorrow night.

Yearwood is trailmaster for the Northern Outdoors Snowmobile Club and one of five club groomers who work in shifts on two Sno-Cats throughout the winter season to keep the trails navigable, enjoyable and - most of all - safe for the thousands of sledders who will travel them.

Made up of dues-paying volunteer workers and avid snowmobilers, the club is a byproduct of a business expansion into snowmobile and cabin rentals years ago by Northern Outdoors, the outdoor adventure business Yearwood co-owns with partners Suzie Hockmeyer and Russell Walters.

Like many Northern employees, Yearwood is a wearer of many hats...and has been since he first started working for the company in 1981 as a rafting guide.

A Madawaska, Maine native, his initial plans called for a short tenure with the company. A strong love of the outdoors and the small community he has come to call his second home changed those plans long ago.

From early spring to late fall, Yearwood's attention is focused on Northern's rafting business along the Kennebec, Penobscot and Dead rivers. Once rafting season ends, however, his focus changes to the winter side of the business.

Snowfall brings regular nightly grooming of 100 miles of trails, which Yearwood knows like the back of his hand.

And well he should, since he and others carved out this trail system beginning in the early 1980s, creating a snowmobiling hub in The Forks that links to major trail systems in neighboring towns.

The process of grooming trails has changed dramatically from the early years, when "primitive" equipment - a modified racing sled pulling a simple pipe drag - was used to level off the riding surface.

That approach worked for the times, Yearwood says, when sled traffic through The Forks was minimal and akin to early discoverers finding unexplored territory.

Knowledge by sledders of the expanding trail system and a tremendous growth in the popularity of snowmobiling have led to bigger and more powerful groomers to keep up with the demand.

This progress has been accompanied by the growth of snowmobiling as a major tourism draw - and economic industry - for Maine.

One constant has remained, however, through all the changes.

On a cold and often snowy night, Trailmaster Jim Yearwood will either be climbing into the Tucker for another run through the woods of Maine - or waiting for his turn in the rotation.

And at hundreds of other snowmobile clubs through the state, a similar number of dedicated volunteers like Yearwood will be doing the same.

1 comment:

  1. J.D., this is a wonderful blog about Jim! Thanks for sharing it. We would love to link to it from our FB page.
    Kind regards,
    with Northern Outdoors