The Off-Grid Groomers of Kingsbury Plantation will soon be back in business

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KINGSBURY — Ah winter… It’s on the way for sure. The north winds have been blowing, hardwood trees are practically leafless, and Mother Nature’s gift of snow has already made an appearance. In this part of Maine thoughts are turning to winter pastimes like skiing, snowshoeing and of course, snowmobiling.

There are miles and miles of beautiful trails to explore and just recently, with that in mind, Kingsbury Plantation residents George Hartford and Phil Wright have formed a snowmobile club they are calling the Kingsbury Off-Grid Groomers. “What led us to this was the fact that trails aren’t marked in our area and many riders would get turned around and lost,” explained Hartford, who is president of the club.

With a population of only 27, Kingsbury Plantation doesn’t have any stores or gas stations, and in the past, townspeople have had to bring fuel to stranded snowmobilers and head them in the direction of other areas that have the right facilities.

Contributed photo
TRAIL PREP — Judy Hartford keeps an eye out for snowmobiles as George Hartford pulls a drag behind their snowmobile for Kingsbury Off-Grid Groomers

“The primitive Kingsbury trail system is a nucleus for surrounding trail systems from five other clubs – the Parkman Trailblazers in Parkman, the AC Lineriders in Athens, the Valley Riders of Bingham, the Four Winds Snowmobile Club in Guilford, and the Big Pine Riders of Abbot,” Hartford said. “We wanted to create a safety corridor from our central area to point A or point B.”

Wright, trailmaster of Off-Grid Groomers, agreed.

“That’s very much needed,” Wright said. “We don’t want any more snowmobilers lost or stranded if we can help it! So, having an actual club will allow us to get signs up and mark intersections clearly so people won’t get lost and would know where the closest point for fuel was.”

With the blessings of the citizens of Kingsbury Plantation, Hartford and Wright have been able to proceed with their plans.

“We’ve been talking about this for about three years,” said Hartford. “But recently being awarded a $14,800 grant has made it feasible.” This grant program was established in 2002 through the Bureau of Parks and Lands to help offset the cost of expensive grooming equipment. Five dollars from each snowmobile registration fee is placed in a dedicated fund. Each year the Bureau will pay out approved capital equipment grants to registered clubs and/or towns.

The Off-Grid Groomers were the lucky recipients, which allowed them the funds to finance a Piston Bully Groomer and a drag with a Merrill Limb Masher attached. The masher is similar to a tractor cutter bar and can cut limbs alongside the trail as well those up to eight feet overhead. “Ron Merrill, who designed the masher actually became a member of our club and gave us a donation,” Hartford said. “These modern drags are a far cry from the bedsprings used in the early days,” he chuckled.

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THINKING OF SNOWMOBILE SEASON — George Hartford, at left and Phil Wright, at right at their booth for the Kingsbury Off-Grid Groomers at Greenville’s Fly-In event this past September.

Prior to receiving the grant, Hartford and Wright tirelessly fundraised at all sorts of events throughout Maine. They were front and center at Greenville’s Fly-In in September, thanks to the kindness of author and Greenville native LewEllyn Hughes, who owns the property on which they set their display booth. Hughes also contacted this writer to suggest a story about the Off-Grid Groomers of Kingsbury.

“Although we’ve put a lot of our own money into this venture, we’re not shy about asking for help,” quipped Wright. They have come up with a snappy logo for the club, designed by Hartford’s niece and fine-tuned by Spugnardi Signs in Turner, Maine. The logo features a bear hanging onto the handlebars of a 1968 Ski-Doo that used to belong to Hartford’s parents. In the background you can see large wind turbines. “Part of our 37-mile trail system goes along the turbine roads,” Hartford said. “You can see for miles on those ridges – the views are spectacular!”

Hartford and his wife used to ride snowmobiles regularly but over the last few years they have preferred grooming the trails.

“We had a 1969 Tucker Sno-Cat that we converted for snowmobile trails,” said Hartford. “Judy, my wife, would ride in the back – facing backward to watch for sleds coming up from behind. For the last few years, that’s been her exclusive view of the snowmobile trails. Now we’ve got this beast of a Piston Bully, which will make our job easier.”

The groomer originally worked at a ski area but has been retrofitted by JR Fabrication in Kingfield to groom snowmobile trails. “They take machines that have been on the ski slopes, recondition them and narrow them up for trail grooming,” Hartford said. “This one’s been narrowed to 10 feet wide which will work well on our trails.”

Although Hartford and Wright are delighted with the assistance the grant allows for their funding, it does not mean they have raised all the money necessary to purchase the groomer. “It just means that the bank will finance the difference, so we still need to raise a bunch of money for operating expenses and to pay off this unit,” said Hartford. “We are also very grateful to all who have generously supported us as we get our club up and running.”

In addition to donations, Off-Grid Groomers appreciates volunteers who would like to help with trail work. Businesses are also encouraged to join the club. “We’re not necessarily looking for money donated – maybe someone could offer a night’s stay for example, so we could raffle it off,” explained Wright. “We’re always looking for items to be raffled or used as door prizes.”

If you would like more information or want to make a donation you can send it to Off-Grid Groomers, P.O. Box 167, Abbot, Maine 04406 or visit their website and click on the donations tab. Check them out on Facebook as well.

“Thanks again for all your support,” Hartford said. “We look forward to maintaining the trails in Kingsbury for your riding enjoyment this winter.”

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