FORT KENT, Maine — As Can-Am Crown musher Jeffrey McRobbie of Wayne recovers from a broken arm and facial injuries following a collision with a snowmobile not far from the start of the 30-mile sled dog race on March 5, race organizers and local snowmobile club members are left pondering what can be done to avoid similar accidents in the future.

Snowmobilers and dog sledders share portions of the routes mapped out for the three Can-Am Crown International Sled Dog Races — 30-, 100- and 250-milers — run annually in Aroostook County, and the accident happened along the multiuse Heritage Trail just outside of Fort Kent.

Beurmond Banville, president for this year’s Can-Am Race Committee, said Wednesday that race organizers met last week and have begun looking at ways to address trail safety concerns and other musher recommendations for next year.

“It’s been suggested to have more wardens patrolling,” he said, although the Can-Am board has not formally endorsed any changes at this point.

Conflicts between mushers and snowmobilers during the annual races are not common, Banville said. Most of the race trails are dedicated to the sled dogs, with only about 30 miles of the 250-mile signature Can-Am race shared with snowmobilers, according to race organizers.

But a combination of factors this year, including nearly a foot of fresh snow the week before, brought a higher-than-normal number of snowmobilers into the same area where dog teams were racing.

Maine Game Warden Adrien Marquis, who investigated the accident on the Heritage Trail, said he had never seen a weekend with so many snowmobiles around.

Although conflicts and accidents are not common, the race has seen its share of mishaps and even tragedy.

In 1997, a dog was killed after being struck by a speeding snowmobile near Portage Lake while racing in the Can-Am 250. That snowmobiler was never identified, according to Banville.

Serving to highlight the concerns, a sled dog in Alaska’s renowned Iditarod race was struck and killed on Saturday, March 12, and three other dogs were injured by a snowmobile while on the trail, according to officials with that race.

The juvenile driver of the snowmobile that struck McRobbie during the Can-Am has been charged with operating to endanger, according to Marquis.

The Heritage Trail in Fort Kent, which includes about 8 miles which are shared by snowmobilers and dog sleds in all three Can-Am races, would seem prone to the most conflicts between mushers and sledders.

However, a longtime race volunteer and one of this year’s race marshals said trails in Portage Lake were more trouble this year.

“The biggest problem we had was in Portage,” said John Pelletier of St. John.

“There was no consideration for mushers whatsoever” from snowmobilers, Pelletier said last week when reached by phone. “We’ve never seen that amount of trouble before.”

He added that, according to longtime race volunteer and Portage Lake resident Jim Dumond, some mushers were scared of the potential for serious accidents.

In Pelletier’s section of the course near Allagash, one experienced musher almost quit due to the close calls with snowmobiles, Pelletier said.

The musher told Pelletier that “he was almost hit six different times. I went out and talked with him and said we would take care of it, and convinced him to finish the race.”

While traveling to Presque Isle on business in the days following the Can-Am races, Pelletier said he was approached many times by people he met and was asked what race organizers were going to do about the interactions between mushers and snowmobilers.

Much of the feedback Pelletier received from the public was “shut it down,” he said, meaning close the race course to snowmobilers during the Can-Am.

Perhaps switching portions of the race routes to avoid trails shared with sleds would help, said Jim Rioux, president of the Fort Kent SnoRiders snowmobile club.

At the same time, he said both snowmobilers and dog sledders should “learn to get along,” Rioux said last week via telephone. Some snowmobilers go too fast and some dog sledders don’t stay to the right as they should, he said.

“As a club, we advocate safety first,” Rioux said. “It’s unfortunate this accident happened. You never want to hear about those.”

Rioux said snowmobile club members understand the long history of the Can-Am, which dates back to 1993, and how important it is to the area.

The event would lose a lot of its appeal and character if the start of races were to be moved out of the downtown Fort Kent area to avoid the Heritage Trail, he said.

“To get rid of Can-Am would be an injustice,” he said, referring to its connection to Fort Kent.

He said some are suggesting that members of the snowmobile club should be helping to monitor the trails during the Can-Am to prevent such accidents.

But “snowmobile clubs should not be in the business of patrolling trails for speed and traffic,” Rioux said.

“You can’t stop the sledding [on that trail] during the races,” he said. “I don’t think that’s the answer.” He added that he thought the job of patrolling snowmobile trails during heavy usage belonged to the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife.

Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association, said the week after the Can-Am races that the organization does not comment on specific accidents, but he did provide some general feedback.

“We don’t have a speed limit” on snowmobile trails in Maine, he said.

Speed limits are too difficult to enforce and the trail conditions can vary so much that what is a safe speed one day may not be so safe the next.

“Having a speed limit implies that it’s safe to go that fast,” Meyers said, emphasizing it is the operator’s responsibility to be aware of their own limits and the trail conditions.

“There is a strong element of rider responsibility that needs to play a role” in avoiding accidents, said Meyers.

In a good year, 80,000 snowmobiles are making use of the thousands of miles of trails throughout the state, Meyers said. In reference to law enforcement on the trails, there can be between 60 and 80 IF&W agents on patrol, he said, although they also are checking on hunters and ice fishermen and doing other duties unrelated to snowmobiling.

IF&W spokesperson John MacDonald said this week that he believed the department provided routine patrols in northern Maine during the Can-Am this year.

He said that if scheduling allows it and there are no other priorities, wardens often make an effort to get to outdoor events that would normally attract a crowd.

“It behooves us to be there,” MacDonald said.

“That does not necessarily mean bringing in extra wardens, though, but rather having those already on patrol make an effort to be on hand,” he clarified.

“There is an option whereby organizers of a special event can pay for a warden to be on hand,” said MacDonald, citing the large fishing derby held at Sebago Lake as an example.

It was MacDonald’s understanding that there was no such request from Can-Am organizers this year, however. His office has not been contacted by race organizers since the event earlier this month, in regard to any requests for 2017, he said.

Can-Am organizers did place large yellow signs stating “Race in Progress” along shared sections of the trail and some race volunteers according to Pelletier did what they could to communicate with snowmobilers and avoid potential problems in the St. John and Allagash areas of the Can-Am.

“We went out on the trail and parked right there” to flag down and alert snowmobilers about the dog sled racers sharing part of the trail, Pelletier said.

“I said to them, ‘If you see a musher, pull [your snowmobile] over and shut it off,’” he said.

Rioux of the Fort Kent snowmobile club said that personal responsibility goes both ways and that the mushers in the race need to understand that when they are on shared trails it is different than being on a dedicated dog sledding section.

While out snowmobiling during the races this year, he said, “I had to back off the trail to let two [mushing] teams go by. They were two-wide.”

On multiuse trails, snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles are generally required to yield to nonmotorized users.

As for the Heritage Trail, which is where McRobbie was hit, Rioux said its designation for multiple use should stay the same.

“I am not advocating no dogs on that trail,” he said.

Pelletier said that since the McRobbie accident, some snowmobilers have offered to assist next year with improving trail safety.

That could include speaking with fellow snowmobilers at intersections or riding sections of trails during the sled dog races to make sure other users are aware mushers are also on the trail.

That sort of cooperation and assistance could go a long way toward avoiding another accident, he said.

Banville of the Can-Am committee said members of the group will take all recommendations under advisement as they meet in coming months to prepare for next year’s races.

“If we are going to share the trail, some changes need to be made,” Rioux said.