MILLINOCKET, Maine — As he stood at the podium Thursday near the $625,000 multiuse recreational trail named after him, U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud couldn’t help noting that one usually has to be dead to be so honored.
The East Millinocket resident, the first recognized Franco-American from Maine to be elected to federal office, is very much alive and very grateful, he said, for the accolade. He said he hoped that the trail would add beauty and health to the Katahdin region.
“We have gone through a lot of tough times in the region in the last 10 or 20 years, but we’ve come through them because we work together as a community,” the 2nd District Democrat said during the Michael Michaud Walking and Biking Trail dedication ceremony at Crandall Park.
Town leaders elected to name the trail after Michaud because of his service to the region and his helping secure the $500,000 in federal grants that eventually were used to build it, Town Manager Eugene Conlogue said.
The town contracted with the Maine Department of Transportation in October 2009 to build the paved trail, which runs about eight-tenths of a mile along both sides of Millinocket Stream between Stearns High and Granite Street schools.
In addition to the federal grants, the town spent $80,625 in DOT funds and $44,375 in municipal funds, plus some in-kind work and donations by town workers and volunteers. The federal grants were left over from a project six years ago that never materialized.
Trail critics have said that with a depressed Katahdin region economy and local governments so strapped for funds, the trail grant should have gone to something more worthwhile. But that was impossible, Michaud said.
“If it wasn’t used for this, it would have just gone back to the federal government and been used somewhere else,” Michaud said. “Maine has been left behind by the federal government for so long, and in so many different areas, that it’s about time we start getting more of these.”
Besides being a recreational outlet for townspeople, the trail is an amenity that can and will draw tourists and business to Millinocket, said Michaud and Dan Stewart, manager of the Maine Department of Transportation Bicycle and Pedestrian program.
“I have talked to CEOs and developers and when they look at developing in a different area, they look at the area’s educational offerings, but they also look for things to do for the families that they would bring to that area,” Michaud said. “They want their people to be able to do different things like this.”
To entice tourism and recreation, state Transportation Department workers will include the Michaud trail in their recreational and tourism listings, including the state website, Stewart said.
Residents have been using the trail in fairly large numbers since construction began, said Bobbie Allen, a resident who as a volunteer planted more than 500 trees, flowers, shrubs and other plants along the artery. She spent about $450 of her own money and was reimbursed by the town for $250, received donations from a Medway fertilizer company and got help from a dozen other volunteers.
Allen worked hundreds of hours digging into the rocky soil, planting and landscaping slightly more than half the trail, she said. Residential properties abutting the trail and her desire to leave the Crandall Park area untouched limited her planting, she said.
“I love giving back to the community,” Allen said. “The town has been in such a depressed state lately. I want the town to have something to smile about.”