MILLINOCKET, Maine – Michael Bennett is the kind of ATV rider that town businesses hope to see more of. A store manager at Lincoln’s Hannaford Supermarket, Bennett puts about 2,000 miles a year on his 2010 Polaris Ranger exploring Maine’s all-terrain-vehicle trails.
The 51-year-old Lakeview Plantation resident and a friend, Dave Marley of Old Town, rode their ATVs about 43 miles from Bennett’s home Friday along an old railroad track bed to the statewide ATV trail in Seboeis and onto the new 23-mile Katahdin region multiuse recreational trail and its spur into downtown, which both opened earlier this month. They had breakfast at Ruthie’s Hotel Terrace and Restaurant on Medway Road and headed back, a six-hour jaunt.
“We will go anywhere there are good trails. I have gone down to Calais and Machias to ride. Good trails are the key,” Bennett said Saturday. “I think they did this one right. It’s a really good trail, but it’s going to need a few years [of riders’ usage] to smooth it out. It’s a good trail though, and nothing but good for this area.”
Town businesses who hope to see revenue increases from ATV traffic give the new trail’s impact mixed reviews so far. They are hopeful, if not confident, that the trail and its spur into town will give their businesses a welcome boost, like the surge they get from the region’s snowmobile trails, once word of it spreads.
“We have seen a few huge parties come through already,” said Clint Rudge, a night shift supervisor at the Dead River convenience store on Route 11, which the new spur runs near. “We have seen a lot of four-wheelers come through on the backs of trucks. Like, the other day, 11 of them came in from LaGrange to ride the trail.
“I think it [the trail] is a great idea,” Rudge added. “It’s about time, too.”
“I haven’t seen one ATV yet,” said Robin Lane, a storekeeper at Central Street Market, another Route 11 convenience store. “We have just seen the locals [ATV riders] so far getting on the trails. No one from out of town.”
As proposed by Town Councilor John Raymond and approved by a 7-0 council vote on Oct. 12, the spur runs from near Millinocket Regional Hospital on Somerset Street to Hannaford Supermarket on Central Street.
The spur connects to the new, approximately 23-mile multiuse recreational trail that was just finished in early October. The trail starts near the Northern Timber Cruisers Snowmobile Club and runs to a multiuse recreational bridge near Route 11 west of town. It then follows to the South Twin trail area and into Seboeis, where it connects with a statewide ATV trail network.
Though it is referred to as a multiuse trail usable for hikers, bicyclists, bird watchers and cross-country skiers, the 23-mile trail primarily has been seen as an ATV conduit since volunteers Paul Sannicandro, Brian Wiley and Raymond began pursuing its creation almost five years ago.
They believe ATV riding can be a natural complement to snowmobiling, one of the Katahdin region’s economic staples and a $350 million industry statewide, except it could be even more profitable because it happens in three seasons.
ATV riders were hard to find on the trail on Saturday, perhaps due to the looming snowstorm and that day being the start of deer-hunting season, but Raymond and other aficionados say the parking lots at the clubhouse and off Penobscot Avenue near the town gazebo have had many ATVs parked within them since the trail opened.
“It has been good,” Raymond said. “Since we opened the connection downtown about two weeks ago it’s been pretty much steady. I have seen quite a few four-wheelers there.”
ATV riders are welcome to use the spur and park their ATVs at the gazebo to visit downtown, but anyone looking to park trailers and ride the trail into downtown, Seboeis and beyond should park at the clubhouse on Millinocket Road, club members have said.
The spur runs from Millinocket Regional Hospital onto Poplar Street to Penobscot Avenue and the heart of downtown. From there, it follows Birch Street to Crandall Park and Congress and Granite streets to Medway Road and Wassau Street. It ends at Balsam Drive and Central Street near Hannaford and McDonald’s.
Bennett said he found only one flaw with the spur and ATV trail – the Brian Wiley Multi-Use Recreational Bridge, which runs by Route 11 just west of town and takes ATV riders over the Penobscot River, isn’t wide enough for side-by-side ATVs like his. He had to take the nearby Route 11 bridge to stay on the trail, he said.
Most of the ATV traffic in downtown so far seems to have been clustered around the gazebo and the eateries there, Pelletier Loggers Family Restaurant and the Scootic Inn, said Gene Shields, owner of Angelo’s Pizza Grille, which is on Penobscot Avenue about 100 yards from those establishments.
But then again, only 11 snowmobiles riding the same spur visited his restaurant last winter, Shields said. He blames town regulations prohibiting snowmobile parking on town streets, plus snowmobilers’ reluctance to stray far from their parked machines, for the lack of customers.
“You go to Presque Isle or Jackman, you see snowmobiles parked up and down the street,” Shields said. “I’d like to see that [town regulations] changed, but I am glad the new trail is here. If it helps somebody’s business, it’s all good.”
Workers at the Katahdin Inn and town Rite-Aid say that they, too, haven’t yet seen any ATVers.
Though they would have preferred the trail and spur to open months sooner, the delayed opening in October will give trail organizers and police handling trail enforcement duties a chance to slowly acclimate to the new trail and spur as word of both continues to build, Raymond said.
Trail organizers are also looking to eventually stretch the spur into other parts of town, so that ATV riders and businesses get more access to it, Raymond said.