LINCOLN, Maine — Town Assessor Ruth Birtz’s discovery of 1918 survey maps of some of the town’s rail lines might resolve a years-long dispute over all-terrain vehicle trails that has grown increasingly harsh, officials said Wednesday.
The maps detail several former farm access points across railroad tracks that run through downtown, including one that can connect town ATV trails that run near Why Not Stop convenience store on Route 6 into Chester and other statewide trails, Town Manager Lisa Goodwin said.
“These [maps] came from the original layouts of the tracks,” Birtz said. “At one time the farms in Lincoln were huge.”
The trail networks are vital to the local ATV club’s efforts to expand trails and help downtown businesses make money from ATV traffic.
Railroad company restrictions and a lack of landowner cooperation have left the club with only one potential way over the tracks — a connection off Route 6 that runs a trail over Buckley and Penobscot avenues. But most neighbors there oppose it because of noise and some riders who litter and drive erratically, posing a safety threat.
The residents believe ATVs simply don’t fit in with the residential character of their neighborhoods, but club leaders say ATVers need to have access to the convenience store to refuel and get food. Town and club members feel that a trail expansion will help the sport become at least as lucrative as snowmobiling, which is a staple to the Lincoln Lakes region’s economy.
Birtz’s eureka moment came at the county records office when she was researching deeds.
“It was a very, very hopeful moment,” Birtz said. “I really feel that the track situation has gotten difficult. I never like to see neighbor pitted against neighbor.”
In April 2010, several Buckley Avenue residents sought Town Council disapproval of the trail.
They said the trail would pose a safety hazard, lead to property damage, add noise and pollution to a quiet neighborhood, kick up heavy dust and otherwise degrade their quality of life.
Council members said they had no role in the matter, explaining that the trail was an issue of state law. The search for an alternative trail has continued since then.
Officials from Pan Am Railways and one of its subsidiaries, Maine Central Railway Co., have said they will allow an ATV crossing if town or club workers can provide a legal access point, Birtz said. The proposed crossing would be some distance away from Buckley Avenue, based on the maps Birtz found.
Club members and members of a town ATV-snowmobile committee are working with the railroad to create a crossing, but it has been a slow process, Birtz said.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud of East Millinocket has pledged to help move the matter along, though Birtz said she hopes his involvement won’t prove necessary.
Buckley Avenue is a U-shaped road about a mile long that connects to Penobscot Avenue near the tracks and northwest of Penobscot Valley Hospital.