Maine snowmobilers mark opening of windmill trail

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Entertainment,Travel

DANFORTH, Maine (AP) — With the snow flying, more than 150 snowmobilers turned out Saturday for an eastern Maine ride-in on a new trail linking wind farms across the state.

Sledders from several snowmobile clubs in the area converged on the Stetson I and II wind farms as the host of their ride-in, First Wind, marked the completion of the Ride the Wind project, a 590-mile trail linking 11 of the state's wind farm sites. First Wind, based in Massachusetts, owns Stetson and several other wind farms in Maine and other states.

Among the snowmobile clubs were the Lincoln Snowhounds, who started the day with a pancake breakfast and rode 40 miles from the Rollins wind farm to Stetson, said Neil Kiely, director of development in New England for First Wind. The Snowhounds' trip marked the inaugural ride on the Ride the Wind route, he said.

Taking part in Saturday's event was Carolann Ouellette, director of the Maine Office of Tourism, suggesting the state's interest in a new attraction for tourists.

"We routinely hear from snowmobilers and ATV users that the first three questions heard from visitors to the area are 'Where is the gas?', 'Where is the food?', and 'How do I get to the wind farm?'" said Kiely. "People are curious about the wind farms, and because of their proximity to snowmobile trails, use them as destinations."

Seeing so much interest in making wind farms destinations for sledders' rides, First Wind embarked on a plan to develop a trail system to help tourists find trails leading to wind farms, said Kiely. A consultant was hired to map out a trail, though most of the route already existed.

Portions of the trails are being upgraded and signs added to show which trails are part of the Ride the Wind route.

Snowmobilers who rode to the Stetson wind projects traveled on groomed trails that passed by many of the 55 wind turbines at the two adjacent sites.

First Wind has sponsored annual ride-ins. This was the first ride-in since 2011. Last year's was canceled due to a lack of snow.

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