Nature Column #9604--St. John Valley Times--Week of Feb.14,1996



Freakish weather on Jan. 27th left an unbelievable job for workers on the Can Am Crown Sled Dog trail. The storm started out with a nice snow, then it turned to rain which continued washing away the snow until midnight. In the wee hours of the morning, the temperature suddenly dropped 10 degrees and it snowed very hard. When we awoke, we were surprised to see about 9" of new snow on the ground. The storm loaded up the trees to produce a beautiful, but devastating sight. The evergreen branches are now burdened with white aprons of snow, pushing them down like nearly closed umbrellas. Where there are thickets of willows, red-osier dogwood, alders, mountain maples, and tall, skinny poplars and birches, the snow apparently fell so fast that it formed a continuous layer over the trees and shrubs, after bending them to the ground. It's as if a huge white quilt were thrown over the whole mass, leaving a hollow space beneath the stems. This happened mostly in low elevations protected entirely from the wind, especially in areas along the railroad tracks just west of Fort Kent and along brooks. Other not so flexible trees are bearing heavy loads of snow that weigh the branches down or bend the whole tree into any opening, which includes old wood roads and trails. In many areas, the Dog Sled Trail has been completely blocked!

I am quite sure that trail crews in all areas are experiencing these problems. The crew that works from Fort Kent to Isie Pond in Eagle Lake has hacked out the trail all the way to Carter Brook (Feb. 7). Quite a battle, with branch-nicked faces and loads of snow falling on the workers. In some places, we were a little uncertain about the location of the trail. The blocking trees were so thick that they obscured the view. Larry Guimond had a hard time keeping his chainsaw going in the subzero weather, having to thaw it under a snowmobile exhaust several times. Snow tumbling off the branches kept clogging the air filter of the saw. Some of us used axes and pruning shears to cut branches and brush, while others dragged the debris off the trail. It wasn't easy threading the cut trees into thick undergrowth off the trail. Lucas Guimond helped by bringing up the snowmobiles as we slowly progressed. Dana Pinette, George Pooler, Ed Wilkinson, Stan Flagg and I were part of the Saturday crew. Randy Pinkham, Doody Michaud, and Marc Michaud joined us on Sunday afternoon. Joseph ("Beaver") Paradis put a lot of mileage on his snowmobile that day, smoothing the trail by dragging an old bedspring.

George, Stan and I found some easier going on Monday, because we were occasionally rewarded with short, open stretches. In one section near Carter Brook there were moose beds all over the snow. I picked up some coarse, 3-1/4" moose hair. The outer half of its length is dark brown, but the inner half is whitened and thicker. The entire length of the hair is crimped like a straightened hairpin. Many nipped willow sprouts attest to the fact that the moose find good eating there. The tender sprouts arose from brush we cut last year. If only we could train the moose to eat the sprouts all the way to the ground! Randy Pinkham joined us yesterday for the final struggle to Carter Brook. About 150 feet of interlaced alders completely blocked us. I estimate that we removed about a thousand stems from that short stretch of "trail". We hope we aren't challenged by many more such places!

Gale L. Flagg

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