MILLINOCKET, Maine — Volunteers who have spent years creating the Katahdin region’s first ATV trail network say illegal dumping and trespassing ATVers might destroy their efforts just as their goal comes within reach.
With Phase I of a proposed trail almost finished and a $35,000 grant to start Phase II just received, riders have trespassed on the trail, which is not open to ATVers yet, despite posted warnings, said Brian Wiley, a Millinocket Area Trails Committee member and East Millinocket resident. He also said a lot of dumping has occurred nearby.
The dumping, for which no one blames ATVers, and the illegal riding could force landowner Katahdin Forest Management to end its nonbinding agreement with a local snowmobile club allowing the multiuse trail, Wiley said.
“If they keep abusing this privilege, we can lose the whole damn thing. We are not about to let that happen,” Wiley said Wednesday. “We know there are people abusing it, and when we catch them, they are going to pay. All they are going to do [if the illegal acts continue] is ruin it for everybody.”
“It breaks my heart that people even think about doing this,” Wiley said.
As all-terrain-vehicle aficionados, Town Councilor John Raymond, resident Paul Sannicandro and Wiley have spent more than three years on the regional trail effort in response to area business owners’ complaints that the lack of trails deprives the Katahdin region of hundreds of thousands of dollars that flow annually into ATV areas in other states.
The three saw ATV riding as a natural complement to the Katahdin region’s internationally recognized snowmobile trails, one of the area’s economic staples, except that it could be even more profitable because it happens in three seasons.
Under the nonbinding agreement with Katahdin Forest Management made in mid-2009, ATV riding will start only when both trail phases are finished in late 2011 or early 2012, Wiley said. Nonmotorized use on Phase I began in February.
The completed trail will start at the Northern Timber Cruisers Snowmobile Club and run to a multiuse recreational bridge near Route 11 west of town. Phase II will go from there to the South Twin trail area and Seboeis, where it will connect with the statewide ATV trail network, Wiley said.
Marcia McKeague, president of Katahdin Forest Management, said she would be patient with the illegal activities, but worried they would discourage other landowners from allowing future ATV or recreational uses.
“This doesn’t bode well for the kind of cooperation that everybody’s been hoping for,” McKeague said Wednesday. “If the ATV riders can’t live with the rules, we will have to reconsider granting permission for ATV riding on the new trail even once it is completed.”
Katahdin Forest Management has allowed snowmobilers and hikers, bird-watchers and other non-motorized users on its lands for years, but denied ATVs, fearing they would tear up delicate lands used by the forest products industry. The organization also didn’t want to see chronic, pervasive problems with illegal dumping ex-pand.
One of the three ATV proponents’ biggest coups was convincing Katahdin Forest Management that most ATV riders would respect the property they would be allowed to use while policing themselves, with help from authorities, they have said.
“A lot of landowners, including us, are discouraged by the illegal dumping, then [they] block their roads and don’t allow any additional use of their land. They figure it just leads to more dumping,” McKeague said. “The dumping goes on everywhere. I wouldn’t say it’s associated with the trail necessarily.”
White goods, tires, construction debris, common trash, vehicles and vehicle parts, items most likely hauled into the woods with pickup trucks or larger vehicles — not ATVs — have been found along Route 11 near the trail and elsewhere, McKeague and Wiley said.
Eleven car tires were found near Phase I of the trail and several of the signs warning riders to stay off the trails have been torn down, Wiley said.
“The biggest issue we are having right now is people who think they can use the trail right now. That is not the case,” he said.
Residents need to save the trail networks by reporting illegal dumping and riding, Town Council Chairman Scott Gonya said.
“Somebody has to start turning in names and license plates. They are going to have to be caught by the general public,” Gonya said. “People can’t expect a police officer to be there. The general public needs to protect this trail system or it will be lost, guaranteed.”
Area residents can call Maine State Police at 866-2121 or 800-432-7381 or their town police departments and dispatchers will handle the complaint accordingly, state police said. Millinocket residents can call those numbers or 723-9731.
“The general public should not confront these people because it could turn bad,” Gonya said.
Wiley hopes to hold a public meeting with residents, town officials and other snowmobile and sporting club members at the Timber Cruisers club to brainstorm solutions to the problems, he said. He also hopes to organize trail cleanups. No date has been set.
“It’s important that there be some form of campaign put in,” he said.
“By and large, people use these timberlands for free,” McKeague said. “They don’t pay anything, and then to have them go and dump their trash or do other illegal things really adds insult to injury.
“It wrecks it for a lot of people who would never do that sort of thing.”