MILLINOCKET, Maine — Years in the making, the Katahdin region’s first networked ATV trail is open for its first full season of riding and is already, despite getting almost no publicity, attracting encouraging numbers of users, officials said Friday.
“It’s been busy,” ATV Trail Manager and Town Councilor John Raymond said of the 16.5-mile trail, which opened May 1. “We were talking about opening it [May 15] but we’ve had a really dry spell and that allowed the club to open it early.”
Town police officers riding their own ATVs will begin patrolling the trail — and the spur off the trail that runs into downtown — this weekend, Police Chief Donald Bolduc said.
Bolduc encouraged all riders to observe ATV laws. People who speed on a trail, ride more than 500 yards from a trail, litter, commit vandalism or any other crime on an ATV risks fines of $100 to $1,000, according to state regulations available at the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife section of Maine.gov.
They also threaten, Bolduc said, the existence of the multi-use trail itself, which also serves walking, hiking, bicycling, snowshoeing, dog sledding, and skiing.
“Our emphasis is on education and enforcement, but it is very important that people adhere to the law because this is still being run on a trial basis and we want to expand our trails,” Bolduc said Friday. “This is a crucial part of us getting permission from landowners to have the trail.”
“If we start having a great many complaints, they can shut us down,” Bolduc said.
Local business people and town leaders view the trail as a cornerstone to the Katahdin region’s tourism economy and a crucial element to the region’s economic revival. Business people 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 ATV riders 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 Paul Sannicandro prevailed upon trail landowner Katahdin Forest Management 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 on Millinocket Lake Road and runs to a multi-use 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. Its first leg was completed in 2010.
The spur runs from Poplar Street near Millinocket Regional Hospital to Hannaford Supermarket on Central Street and is viewed as crucial to getting ATV riders to town merchants.
Police on ATVs and in cars will patrol the particular roads along the spur to ensure that ATV riders are operating safely, within speed limits and adhering to ATV laws. Those particular roads along the spur are Poplar Street, Penobscot Avenue, Birch Street and Congress Street, Granite Street Bridge, Medway Road, Wassau Street and Sycamore Street near McDonalds Restaurant, Bolduc said.
Riders can use the convenience stores and restaurants along Route 11 to gas up and get consumables, Raymond said.
Anyone wishing to report an ATV problem in town should call police at 723-9731. Town police have been deputized by the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Department to enforce ATV regulations beyond town lines, Bolduc said. The sheriffs and the Maine Warden Service will also be doing enforcement in and beyond Millinocket.
So far, no significant problems have come with the trail’s opening, Katahdin Forest Management President Marcia McKeague said.
“It has been a lot more work than we have guessed for the volunteers and certainly more work for us,” McKeague said. “It has really been a good project to work on with [volunteers]. As we have tried to work through this we have developed some really good working relationships.”
“We will start to see if it is going to have the kind of economic impact to the area that people are hoping for. That is the big unknown,” she added.
A previous version of this story referred to a John Sannicandro. The correct name is Paul Sannicandro.