Maine winters can be harsh and brutal. For some, it’s long, boring and filled with nothing to do. Some may pack up skis and snowboards and hit the slopes, others may strap on cross-country skis or snowshoes and hit the trails. Then there are those who set out on an outdoor adventure on their snowmobile.

According to the Maine Snowmobile Association’s website, more than 100,000 snowmobiles ventured out for a winter adventure in 2009, be it on Maine’s Interconnected Trail System (ITS), marked and unmarked trails, or just a winter festival or other event.

The Maine Snowmobile Association has been active and involved in part of the Maine outdoors since 1968. When the MSA first started, it began with six members. Over the past 40 or more years, the association’s membership has grown to stand around 30,000 snowmobilers, and friends, statewide and beyond its borders.

There are more than 280 clubs in Maine and 19 of them are located in Knox, Waldo and part of Lincoln counties. Clubs belonging to the MSA have at least one director depending on the size of the club. Club directors elect the officers of the MSA each year at the annual MSA meeting by the directors of the different clubs.

Club members work locally, regionally and at a state level to promote snowmobiling within the state as a fun, family-oriented and safe winter sport. Members of the clubs also accept much of the responsibility for maintenance of the trails, which includes grooming, signing, bridge building and trail clearing.

Another job that falls to club members is obtaining permission from landowners in the respective club’s area for use of the land for a trail and snowmobile passage. Once permission is gained, the members are to maintain contact with the property owners in regard to the trail usage.

Funding for the maintenance of trails comes mostly from the registration each year of the snowmobiles. A large portion of the $40 per year resident and $88 per year non-redsident fee goes to the Snowmobile Trail Fund of the Department of Conservation, Bureau of Parks and Lands. From there it is distributed through grants to snowmobile clubs and towns to develop, construct and maintain the trails.

Some of the money is also used to help purchase grooming equipment for the trails, as well as having a portion of the money credited to the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife for snowmobile enforcement and related expenses.

The state’s general fund also receives a portion, and in the case of Maine residents registering their machines, their municipality receives a percentage as well.

Registered snowmobiles have access to the more than 13,500 miles of Maine trails and the ITS.

The Interconnected Trail System, or the ITS, can be considered to snowmobiles what the 1-95 is for vehicles. The ITS runs north, south, east and west and covers more than 1,000 miles. It connects to many regional and local trails making it possible for riders to access a large portion of Maine by snowmobile.

For more information about the ITS and other Maine trails, contact a local snowmobile club or visit the Maine Snowmobile Association website at mesnow.com.

Snowmobile riders that are new to the Maine trails may not be aware of the laws that have been put into place to keep them, and others, safe. Machines are not allowed to operate in a cemetery, within 200 feet of a dwelling, hospital, nursing home, convalescent home or church.

Other places they cannot operate are along railroad tracks, unless the rider has written permission from the railroad. It’s also prohibited for a rider to ride across the tracks if the railroad has those tracks posted. Road travel is allowed only for an extremely short distance.

To ensure a safe and fun adventure on your snowmobile, it’s best to obtain a copy of the Maine snowmobile law book. Visit the Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife website at http://www.maine.gov/ifw/laws_rules/snowlaws.htm or call (207) 287-8000 to get a copy.

VillageSoup Sports Assistant Holly Vanorse can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail at hvanorse@villagesoup.com.