By Sheila Grant
Snowmobilers in Aroostook County will have smoother, safer trails to enjoy this winter, thanks to efforts by local folks and the Maine Department of Conservation. One major project recently completed made repairs to sections of trail alongside the St. John River in Fort Kent.
“Because of erosion, the river was scouring out the side of the banking. It was actually working its way up to the surface of the trail,” said Skip Varney, senior planner for the MDOC’s Off-road Vehicle Division.
“You could see where the fencing was along the edge, there were washouts. The fencing was being supported by itself; there was no ground or surface material there,” he said. “It had eroded enough that it had gotten into about one third of the trail surface. It was definitely dangerous for ATV users and snowmobilers.”
Varney said the situation had been monitored for a few years.
“I worked with LURC to figure out what would be the best approach and the most cost-effective way to rectify the situation,” he said. “I drew up a plan. They sent it to the State Planning Office, so we were assured we were all on the same page before putting it out to bid.”
Getting the project underway was a complicated process. Army Corps of Engineer flood-zone maps had to be studied, and Varney’s division had to work with the Submerged Lands Division of MDOC because the St. John is a border river between the United States and Canada.
Varney credited the assistance of the Town of Fort Kent and Kenneth “Doody” Michaud, Fort Kent’s police chief, for keeping things running smoothly. “He took the design plans and the specs I drew up and put that out to bid on behalf of the town,” Varney said.
“He acted as project manager on the site. We came up and did inspections. The ATV coordinator, Jim Caron, came up, as well. I helped with the permitting, setting the project up, and getting the Recreational Trails Program grant,” Varney said.
A total of $58,680 in RTP funds was awarded for the Fort Kent project. Of that, $48,680 went into repairs along the riverbank. The remainder was spent to upgrade the surface on one section of the trail.
“It actually was done on time and on budget,” Varney said. “We got a real good price on the work. Ed Pelletier and Sons from Madawaska did a real good job. They had to build a road down to the base of the river. They had to dig out the area to be able to tow in the rip-rap. It was good-sized rip-rap and real steep banking. It was a really challenging project, and they did a real good job.”
Volunteers from Caribou, Van Buren, Washburn, and Mapleton are working to identify problem areas along the trail system. Kathleen Mazzuchelli, superintendent of the Caribou Recreation Department, and Gary Marquis, director of parks and maintenance, are spearheading the effort while Varney’s division is sponsoring grant funding for the work.
“They’re putting together a master plan to identify all the problem areas first,” he said. “If you don’t take care of the water issues, surface materials won’t stay in place.” To date, numerous culverts have been replaced, and grading and other surface work has been done on sections of the former Bangor & Aroostook Railroad trail.
Varney said that he and Caron had been in Aroostook on Sept. 30 inspecting work done with RTP funds on the Crouseville trestle.
“All the former surface materials were removed, and new decking materials were placed over the ties. The surface area on the Crouseville trestle was 8 feet wide by 600 feet long, and that’s all done at this point.”
For now, Varney said the MDOC is trying to address the worst problems identified along Aroostook trails. Eventually, the focus will turn to minor problems and then to trail maintenance.