First Wind, an independent U.S.-based renewable energy company, today hosted its annual Stetson Wind Snowmobile Ride-In, bringing together snowmobilers from across the area to see the company’s wind projects up-close and enjoy the scenic beauty of the area. The ride-in is part of a project spearheaded by First Wind and the Maine Snowmobile Association to create a 590-mile circuit of existing trails that would connect Maine’s viewing points of wind power projects. The initiative, calledRide the Wind, would benefit local businesses located along the route by attracting riders who are interested in seeing a wind power project.
Some 200 snowmobilers converged on the Stetson Wind I and II projects over several hours on Saturday, riding on groomed trails that passed by many of the 55 wind turbines at the two adjacent projects. Because the 2012 ride-in was canceled due to lack of snow, this is the first such ride-in at Stetson Wind since 2011.
Maine has some 14,500 miles of snowmobile trails that crisscross the state from Aroostook to York County, with snowmobilers traveling Maine’s trails every winter often looking to ride to destinations around the state like lakes, snowmobile clubs, country stores, and wind projects. Snowmobiling is a significant tourist attraction for Maine, as there are nearly 300 snowmobile clubs and more than 100,000 people who ride the trail system across the state.
“We routinely hear from snowmobilers and ATV users that the first three questions heard from visitors to towns located near wind projects are ‘Where is the gas?’, ‘Where is the food?’, and ‘How do I get to the wind farm?’” said Neil Kiely, Director of Development, New England at First Wind. “People are curious about the wind farms, and because of their proximity to snowmobile trails, use areas where they can be seen as destinations. We’re excited to host snowmobilers today, and hope to do more in the future. We think it’s something snowmobilers will like and it will be a boon for local businesses and tourism in Maine.”
Bob Meyers, Executive Director of the Maine Snowmobile Association, who participated in the ride-in today added, “The ride into a wind project like this is fun for everyone, and we appreciate that businesses in Maine like First Wind who open their projects up to snowmobilers. We’re very hopeful we can move forward with a statewide wind farm trail system soon, and we look forward to providing more exciting opportunities like this one across the state.”
First Wind has five operating wind farms in Maine, and two in the permitting process. First Wind’s projects stretch from Mars Hill in Aroostook County to Bull Hill in Hancock County.
“It’s important to First Wind that we be actively engaged in our local communities,” said E.J. Martin, Vice President of Operations at First Wind. “This ride-in offers a chance for local snowmobilers to enjoy an operating wind power plant up close under the supervision of the operations staff. We look forward to the opening of formal trail systems that allow outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy the beauty of Maine generated wind power on a continual basis from nearby viewpoints.”
A consultant was hired to link Maine’s 11 wind farm sites that are operating, in the permitting phase or under development in the state. Some 600 miles of trails were mapped linking the 11 sites that are owned by First Wind and other wind developers. Most of the snowmobile trails already exist, but First Wind is helping to bring about upgrades, improvements, connecting trails, and signage to bring the “Ride the Wind” trail to life.
“With so many snowmobilers looking to wind farms as destinations, we thought it would make sense to develop a program that would help tourists find trails that will take them to wind farms, and provide them with a recreational tourism destination,” said Kiely. “We are seeing enthusiastic support. The areas within view of wind farms are popular destinations for people that like to ride and see attractions. This is a destination sport.”
First Wind also donated $500 toward scholarships for students in need at Lee Academy, a high school in Lee, Maine. In past years, First Wind has donated to other local charities in the area, including the House in the Woods, a Lee-based non-profit that provides outdoor activities for U.S. Armed Forces veterans and their families.
The Stetson ride-in today was the unofficial kick-off of the Ride the Wind effort. Learn more about the ride-in at www.ridethewind2013.com.
Image courtesy First Wind