MILLINOCKET, Maine – Bob and Bess Cutliffe rode their ATV on the new Katahdin Area Multi-Use Trail on Sunday for the first time this year and have advice for fellow riders.
If you’re elderly, prepare for a rough ride.
“The young people will love it,” 69-year-old Bess Cutliffe said Sunday.
“They don’t mind it being rough,” agreed her friend and fellow rider, Marcia Nice of Millinocket. “When you get to be our age, it hurts your arms, it hurts your back. It’s rough.”
The ride might have been rough, but the 40 to 50 riders that have hit the 16½-mile trail since the run of good weather that bloomed Thursday have shown that the new trail has smoothly become a part of the state’s ATV trail network, said members of the Northern Timber Cruisers club of Millinocket, which co-sponsors the trail.
“I love everything I have seen so far,” said David Moore, a club member and the club’s former president. “There’s not a mark where there shouldn’t be. It’s been better than I expected because riders aren’t going off the trail. They are staying right where they belong.”
This weekend was the first in which the weather really supported riding, and police who patrol the trail, which debuted in October and reopened May 1, say that riders seem to be respecting how special the trail is.
“We haven’t had any problems,” said Millinocket police officer Gary Lakeman, one of several officers who uses his own ATV to patrol the trail.
The worst thing officers have seen, Lakeman said, is a few minors who had removed their helmets to escape the heat. Under state law, riders under age 18 must wear helmets, he said.
The riders police have seen have complied with trail-riding regulations, Lakeman said.
Years in the making, the trail is viewed by local business people and town leaders 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.
Club volunteers have donated at least 48 hours of trail inspection, maintenance and trash collection since May 7, said club President Jim Moore, David Moore’s brother. Seven club members have logged their almost daily efforts at trail maintenance, which has included installing and maintaining trail signs.
Fifty small signs meant to mark the trail’s downtown spur arrived in Friday’s mail and will be installed over the next week or so, Jim Moore said.
The trail starts near the Northern Timber Cruisers snowmobile club on KFM land on Millinocket Lake Road 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. 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.
Craig Campbell, a cashier at the Irving gas station on Route 11, said business has picked up since Thursday. About 30 ATV riders have visited the station since then, he said.
About the only impediment to traffic coming onto the multiuse trail, has been a washout or mud hole on the state trail in Brownville, but it is still passable, and members of the club there are repairing the trail, David Moore said.
Riders who hit the trail will have a scenic ride, said Bernette Whitney of Millinocket. The ride features spectacular views of Mount Katahdin and Jo-Mary Mountain and lots of wildlife, including moose, deer, rabbits and partridges, she said.
But the riders must continue to respect the trail, its landowners, and the years of work the volunteers have contributed to creating it, David Moore said, for the landowners can refuse trail access.
“We can lose it,” Moore said of the trail, “a lot faster than we ever got it.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story contained an error. People under age 18, not 16, must wear helmets when riding ATVs.