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Snowmobile trails would link Maine wind farms

Associated Press Modified: November 25, 2012 at 2:45 pm •  Published: November 25, 2012

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Maine snowmobilers love to have destinations for their wintertime rides, and they are working with the wind power industry on a plan to link perhaps 10 of the state's wind farms with trails in a unique addition to Maine's outdoor tourism menu.

"It's going to take some doing to pull it all together," said Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association. "It's looking very possible."

The snowmobile group, which represents more than 285 clubs, is working with First Wind, TransCanada, Patriot Renewables and other wind power developers on the project to formalize what could be a roughly 600-mile route.

The idea developed from two directions.

Snowmobilers who like to have destinations when they set out on Maine's 14,000 miles of trails, proposed the trail, said Neil Kiely, project manager for First Wind, which provided food and drinks for the visitors. Clubs from the Penobscot and southern Aroostook county area have conducted ride-ins for the past four winters for 150 to 200 sledders to First Wind's Stetson wind farm, where two sets of windmills operate.

Sledding clubs organize trails to all kinds of other locations, often for their scenery, said Meyers.

"There's been quite a lot of enthusiasm from the snowmobile clubs that have been involved" in the windmill trail planning, he said. "At this point, it's kind of moving from the conceptual to the operational."

The wind power companies, for their part, make a practice of reaching out to those who have some connection to the land where their projects are going, through hunting, fishing or other outdoor recreational activity, or ownership of property within eyesight. They also communicate with health and environmental groups and others interested in the projects with hopes that hearing each other out will mitigate or prevent disputes in the windmill planning process.

"The industry is always looking to partner with other users of the land," said Jeremy Payne, executive director of the Maine Renewable Energy Association. Payne said the trail project is still in its early stages, with much of the discussions so far on possible routes. But not much trailblazing will have to be done.

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