MILLINOCKET, Maine — Construction of the area’s first organized ATV trail system could begin this summer with an agreement the town approved Wednesday that could help bring millions of tourist dollars into the Katahdin region.
The town, Northern Timber Cruisers snowmobile club and Katahdin Forest Management LLC, the region’s largest landowner, have agreed to work together to build a 13-mile ATV trail on KFM land. The trail will connect the Cruisers’ clubhouse on Baxter State Park Road to the South Twin Lake area.
The 13-mile link is the first of a two-phase plan to build a 20-mile trail connecting the Katahdin region to ATV networks near Seboeis Lake, which tie in to ATV trails throughout southern Maine. The ultimate goal is to make the region as internationally renowned for all-terrain-vehicle riding as it is for snowmobiling, which is the area’s biggest tourist attraction.
“This is a big step we have been waiting for,” said Town Councilor John Raymond, who helped engineer the deal. “Without the landowner’s permission we have nothing. With it, we can actually start to build something.”
The agreement was reaffirmed by the council’s 7-0 vote to pursue an ATV trail development grant offered by the state Department of Conservation. If the application is approved, the state will allocate $13,825 toward the trail’s construction. The town will pay its portion of the grant’s matching fund requirement of $5,925 from other grant monies already received.
The announcement of the KFM agreement, and the unanimous vote, were proud moments for Raymond, an ATV advocate who some say was elected in November for his trail work.
Raymond, along with former Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce President Brian Wiley, and resident Paul Sannicandro have been working for three years as volunteers to create a 35-mile multiuse trail for ATV riders, bicyclists, bird-watchers, campers, hikers, snowmobilers, and others.
Local business people and sportsmen have long complained that the area’s lack of an ATV trail system — which draws millions of dollars and thousands of tourists to other state areas annually — has deprived the region of economic benefits similar to the millions it reaps from snowmobiling.
KFM and other landowners stoutly resisted the effort, fearing littering, vandalism, insurance liability and damage done to sensitive lands still used by the state’s forest products industry. Signed by KFM President Marcia McKeague on Friday, the agreement breaks that impasse.
“They are a good example of people getting work done and taking care of the problems of their constituents and the people they are working with,” council Chairman Wallace Paul said of the volunteers.
“It has been a long time coming,” Councilor Jimmy Busque said. “This will certainly help local businesses, and from that hopefully there will be other businesses that can start up because of this.”
Councilors and Town Manager Eugene Conlogue worked with state Rep. Herbie Clark, D-Millinocket, on legislation, recently signed into law by Gov. John Baldacci, allowing tax break money once used only for economic development to be diverted to recreation projects such as ATV trails.
The region’s trails committee and town are also planning to build a multiuse trail bridge this summer that will cross the Penobscot River.
“Everything is starting to come together in pieces now,” Councilor Michael Madore said. “This is a great boon for the town of Millinocket and the Katahdin region.”
The trail development grant is among three the town will pursue, Raymond said. The bridge and trail projects are designed to cost local taxpayers as little as possible. Trail construction could occur this summer if the grant money comes back quickly enough.
“Our goal is to have everything done by 2011,” he said. “If it happens sooner, that’s better. We are going to work hard on it.”