Public works crews instrumental to Can-Am success

FORT KENT, Maine — There will be plenty of snow lining Main Street in Fort Kent on Saturday, March 3, when mushers and dogs take off for the start of the 26th Can-Am Crown International Dog Sled Races. 

Among the many moving parts that help ensure the success of the Can-Am are the efforts of the Fort Kent Public Works Department.

On the Friday evening before the event, while mushers are preparing themselves and their dogs for what organizers describe as “the most challenging sled dog race in the eastern United States,” public works crews get busy turning Main Street into a snowy trail.

“We usually gather up at the (town) garage at 9 p.m. to get everything started,” said Public Works Director Tony Theriault of the process that usually takes until about midnight to complete.

The workers gather the snow from banks alongside RIver Street, which they intentionally do not treat with sand or salt during the winter months to ensure a clean powder for the dog sleds.

“We use four trucks, the grader, payloader and the tractor. I have the grader and go and take the hard snow and kind of roll it in a windrow,” Theriault said.  From there the workers pick up the snow with the snowblower and load it up into the trucks for spreading downtown.

Theriault said the guys dump between 80 and 100 loads of snow onto Main Street and the adjoining Meadow Lane, where the dogs prepare for take-off. Throughout the weekend about 10 public works employees help with the effort.

Fort Kent town manager Don Guimond described the public works effort as a “critical component” of the Can-Am.

“If the public works crew didn’t put the snow down, you wouldn’t have the Main Street start,” Guimond said. “I think the public understands that the public works folks put an effort into getting that prepared but I don’t think they necessarily understand fully how much work it takes to do all of that and make sure it comes out right.”

Returning mushers said they appreciate the efforts of the public works crew and all those who help to prepare Main Street.

“(We are) always (proud) to be part of a race of this magnitude like Can Am and to see so many people come and cheer us on at the starting line, no matter the weather. We are always excited and feverish when we leave Main Street,” said defending Can-Am 250 champion Martin Massicotte. “The community of Fort Kent is exceptional and so welcoming, it is with great pleasure that we come to race here year after year.”

Musher Amy Dionne of St. David also appreciates the Main Street start at Can-Am.

“It’s a surreal feeling to take off on Main Street with hundreds of fans and volunteers lined up cheering you on,” she said. “After you cross Main Street and get on the rail bed the race mentality starts to set in as the crowds of people gets thinner and it eventually becomes just you and the dogs, which is what I love best.”

Theriault and his gang prepare for the race long before the mushers and their dogs take off in March.

“It’s a yearly event and we know and we plan for it continuously; it’s quite a process,” Theriault said.

This is especially true during lean snow-yielding winters, according to Theriault, when the banks along River Street are not enough to prepare Main Street for the races.

“One year we had to run around to quite a few different places to pick up snow,” he said. “We watch all winter long in case there is not enough snow on River Street and toward the fire station so we can…..line up spots with good snow to pick up.”

Once all of the mushers and their teams have cleared Main Street on Saturday, the crews get back to work, returning the town roads to normal.

“We kind of wait until everything is done and then when I get the word that it’s OK, we pick up the streets, pick up the barricades and get everything back to normal as quick as we can and get salt back on Main Street,” the public works director said.

Theriault said he appreciates all of those who put in efforts to make the Can-Am successful, including University of Maine at Fort Kent students who volunteer to help guide the mushers and their teams to the starting line on the day of the race.

“I like too how the college kids get involved,” Theriault said. “They do a lot of set up and it’s nice to see them doing that. Sometimes it’s cold out there but they seem to be having fun.”

Theriault said he attends the Can-Am and the awards banquet that follows, every year.

“I think it’s a good thing,” he said of the event. “It exposes a lot of people to Fort Kent and when you have a good thing and you expose it to people it’s got to help.”  

The Can-Am races will begin at 8 a.m. on Saturday, March 3, on Main Street.

Stay with the Fiddlehead Focus as we bring you nonstop coverage of the Can-Am races all weekend long.

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