MILLINOCKET, Maine — Spring seems far off, but town leaders prepared for it Thursday and for something they have waited years to see: the start of the town’s first full year as a community connected to a statewide all-terrain-vehicle trail network.
With ATV Trail Manager and Town Councilor John Raymond abstaining, the Town Council twice voted 6-0-1 to apply for two state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife grants totaling $25,865. The grants would provide town police with ATV equipment, training and overtime funding to patrol the town’s new 16½-mile ATV trail and a spur from the trail that runs into downtown.
With the town facing reductions in state aid and declining tax revenues, Councilor Bryant Davis didn’t like the idea of applying for the grants because they carry $9,691 in matching funds that the town would have to provide.
“We are cutting services and there are a lot of things we need in our community without us adding more work to our police force,” Davis said during the council meeting. “I am for the grant, but I am not for taxpayer dollars being spent on this.”
After the meeting, Raymond explained that the local police patrols, which would supplement state game warden patrols, were requested by landowner Katahdin Forest Management as part of KFM’s signing a nonbinding agreement with a local snowmobile club allowing the multiuse trail to run through KFM property.
“They are testing us, basically,” Raymond said. “We are in a trial period with them [KFM officials]. If we don’t fulfill all of our commitments during this period, they could pull the lease on us.”
Local businesspeople had complained for decades that the Katahdin region has lacked networked ATV trails, which they feel would be even more lucrative than the region’s internationally recognized snowmobile trail network because ATVers would ride the trails in three seasons, not just winter. The state snowmobile industry generates $300 million to $350 million annually, Maine officials have said.
Until Raymond and area residents Brian Wiley and John Sannicandro prevailed upon KFM and got the trail opened last October, most landowners had resisted allowing ATV riders on their properties. They feared vandalism, illegal dumping and damage done by the ATVs to their lands — which grow trees to supply state forest products industries — by riders straying from the trails.
The trail starts near the Northern Timber Cruisers Snowmobile Club on KFM land 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.
The spur runs from near Millinocket Regional Hospital on Somerset Street to Hannaford Supermarket on Central Street and is viewed as crucial to getting ATVers to town merchants.
Councilors agreed to two grants. One, totaling $17,060, would provide police with $14,000 to buy an ATV, plus $1,000 for training and $2,060 for gear. The other grant, totaling $8,805, would pay for more than 40 four-hour town police patrols on the trail and spur, Police Chief Donald Bolduc said.
At the moment, snowmobilers are using the ATV trail. The trail will be closed during mud season and reopen as soon as Raymond and other ATV Trail Committee members feel the ground is solid enough for ATV traffic.
Bolduc told councilors that he and his officers used their own ATVs and equipment to ride the trails last fall and would probably do so again if the town failed to get the grants.
They need to buy at least one ATV because the all-terrain vehicle donated to them by the Caribou Police Department works well on the in-town spur but isn’t rugged enough for trail use, Bolduc said.
The grants application deadline is March 1, Town Manager Eugene Conlogue said.