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Aroostook State Park offers miles of cross-country ski, snowshoe trails

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Coming off of a strong summer and fall season, Aroostook State Park is entering the winter recreation season with early snow and the likelihood of challenging ski trail maintenance.

Aroostook State Park’s ski and snowshoe trails have been open since late November, after the month brought close to three feet of snowfall to central Aroostook County.

“We’ve been flat dragging and trying to build the base” on the ski trails, said state park manager Scott Thompson. “Of course, the ground is not frozen. We’re going to be fighting this all winter.”

The state park has 15 miles of cross country ski trails at varying levels of expertise, from flat novice trails to trails that traverse winding hills around Quoggy Jo Mountain. The park also has nearly seven miles of snowshoe trails, including trails summiting the mountain and exploring lower-lying areas of the park.

The snowshoe trails are generally passable with any significant amount of snow, though can become hard packed and icy during the winter and early spring.

The ski trails are a labor of love for Thompson and park ranger Alan Cleaves, who use relatively small-scale snowmobile grooming equipment to compact snow and set tracks on the 15 mile ski network.

Aroostook State Park is among more than half-a-dozen Aroostook County venues with groomed Nordic ski trails, including the Fort Kent Outdoor Center, the Four Seasons Trail in Madawaska, and the Nordic Heritage Center in Presque Isle.

“It’s a lot of work,” Thompson said. “If we get an ice storm and there are a lot of downed trees, it’s two to three weeks to get the trails open again.”  

Skiers can call ahead to check conditions or visit the Maine state park system’s website for trail reports.

“We have a wide variety of trails to meet whatever experience that one wants to do,” Thompson said.

“The one I really enjoy is going through the swamp in the novice snowshoe trail where its full of mature cedar and black spruce. When it’s real cold and a windchill factor of 10-below, you get down there and it’s almost like a heatwave.”

That section of the park, where the novice ski trail starts off of the parking lot, also passes the “Castle Tree,” one of the park’s huge, likely-century old white pine trees. Home to bald eagles in some years, the Castle pine is one of five white pines that were already large when the park was established in the 1930s. Today three remain, one likely being a regeneration of the original.

Like all of Maine’s state parks, Aroostook State Park is set to close out 2018 after a strong summer and fall for camping.

Across the state, a record-breaking 255,553 people camped at Maine’s state parks through September of this year, according to the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

Aroostook State Park booked 3,626 campers this year, which is pretty much in line with the average, Thompson said. However, more campers than typical were booking reservations and coming from outside the area, he said.

“We don’t get a lot of reservations. Most of the people that come are locals,” Thompson said. “It wasn’t a record number, but it was an increase in reservations.”

Thompson said he thinks that the state parks in southern and coastal Maine being relatively packed encouraged campers to visit parks in inland and northern Maine, such as Lily Bay State Park in Greenville, Peaks-Kenny State Park in Dover-Foxcroft and Aroostook State Park.  

“In a sense, we never would have got those people here if they weren’t full in the other parks. People are starting to come north and inland,” Thompson said.

“The uniqueness of this park is it offers rustic, outdoor and nature activities and camping. It’s clean, it’s inviting, and there’s not a lot of people. We joke with everybody and say, ‘So when you go home, don’t tell your friends about us,’” Thompson said.

“When people come in we have the ability to interact. We can talk to a camper at the gate and talk to them for 20 minutes, and we have the time to do it. We’re not only promoting our own park, but other places around Aroostook County.

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