MILLINOCKET, Maine — U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud promised to work to secure federal aid to make the Katahdin region’s first ATV trail a bona fide tourist and recreational attraction.
While cutting ribbons Saturday to the first completed section of a would-be all-terrain vehicle pathway downtown and the connecting Brian Wiley Multi-Use Recreational Bridge, Michaud saluted the volunteers and officials who made both possible.
“It is something that I am very pleased to see finally come to fruition,” Michaud, the U.S. 2nd District representative from Maine who hails from Millinocket, said Saturday. “Many groups came together to make this happen, and it’s definitely going to help the Katahdin region.”
About 30 residents, town leaders, state Rep. Herbie Clark, D-Millinocket, Michaud, Katahdin Forest Management President Marcia McKeague, Northern Timber Cruisers Snowmobile Club members and the leaders of the trail movement celebrated their three-year effort to bring ATVs to the region.
Area business owners have long said the lack of ATV trails deprived them of hundreds of thousands of dollars that flow into other areas annually. And the other trail and bridge uses — including hiking, bicycling, jogging, walking and snowshoeing — should not be ignored, McKeague said.
“I am sure we will see some level of cross-country skiing on the trail,” said McKeague, who helped create the fledgling ATV and multiuse trail by allowing it to run on KFM land between the clubhouse and a state ATV trail network near Seboeis Lake.
“There are actually a lot of good trails here that perhaps aren’t as well-known as the area’s [snowmobile trails],” she added.
Trail construction is ongoing. Phase I is open to all but motorized use, with Phase II construction, the final connection to Seboeis, planned this year. ATV riding will start in 1½ years, when the connection is ready.
Other landowners, who still fear liability and damage to sensitive woodlands they grow, haven’t followed KFM’s example, McKeague said.
“They think we’re crazy,” she said with a laugh, “but I can’t see any objections to it. I think things are on time. They put down Phase I of the trail really quick, and I think Phase II will go just about as fast.”
The bridge ribbon-cutting was something of a formality, as the span has been open for more than a month. It was named after Brian Wiley, a former Katahdin Area Chamber of Commerce leader and trail pioneer, at a Town Council meeting Thursday.
The 2-mile spur to the first multiuse trail, which leads from Penobscot Avenue to the bridge, is perhaps the lesser-known aspect of the trail system, but likely will pay huge dividends to downtown, Wiley said.
An informal trail from Penobscot Avenue at the downtown park to snowmobile trails west of town has existed for decades, Wiley said, but a $50,000 in-kind donation by the club and Pelletier Bros. Inc. (of the “American Loggers” Discovery Channel TV show) changed that.
Now downtown has a two-lane gravel trail with signs, and a town-donated 2,500-foot fence separating it from Oak Street traffic on Katahdin Paper Co. LLC property.
“We never really had that before,” Wiley said. “The club really stepped in and put the fence up in 20-degree-below [zero] weather. This has always been a team effort, and [club members] have always been a big part of the team.”
The trail connection already is helping downtown businesses, as it will help the Pelletier Bros. Family Restaurant Bar and Grill when it opens early next month, said restaurant co-owner Eldon Pelletier.
“You can see people walking by in snowmobile helmets on Main Street because of the trail,” Pelletier said.