DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — The Piscataquis County commissioners voted Tuesday to move forward with discontinuing Campground Road in Elliotsville Township.
The road was the same one that drew fire from Elliotsville Township residents last year when philanthropist Roxanne Quimby erected a gate on the road to prevent motorized vehicle access. The gate was vandalized in November. It was discovered in February that the road was still county-owned.
In a 2-1 vote, the commissioners took the first step in transferring ownership of the road to Elliotsville Plantation Inc., the entity owned by Quimby.
The dirt road stretches 0.77 miles from Elliotsville Road to Little Wilson Falls.
Mark Leathers, project manager for James W. Sewall Co. of Old Town, which represents Elliotsville Plantation Inc., has proposed a solution for the concerns of Quimby as the landowner and the residents of Elliotsville.
Leathers said Elliotsville Plantation Inc. wants to reinstall a gate on the road and plans to donate a half-acre of land on which the county could construct a parking lot. The road and trails would be converted to a public recreational easement. Leathers said that would also give the county an opportunity to improve the 1.1-mile hiking trail from lower Little Wilson Falls to upper Little Wilson Falls, which is the second-highest waterfall in the state.
“We’d put up signage there to make it more visible, create a parking lot with funds from the Department of the Interior given to the county, the gate would return, but there would be access around the gate for hikers, mountain bikers, wheelchairs, canoe carriers, just not for motorized vehicles,” said Tom Lizotte, chairman of the commissioners. “[Having motorized vehicles on the road is] just not the wish of the landowner, and that’s private property. And we don’t have to maintain the road.”
The Department of the Interior gives the county a payment in lieu of taxes of $12,000 per year for the Appalachian Trail, for which the county doesn’t receive tax money.
Commissioner Eric Ward, who represents Elliotsville as part of the first district, voted against the motion to form and sign an order of discontinuance of the road. He also opposed another motion to file the order and send the abutting property owner a letter of the action without delay. Quimby is the only abutting owner to that road, said Lizotte.
Brian Wentzell, Maine policy director for the Appalachian Mountain Club, said he supported the proposal and added that the club would aid the county in improving the trail from the lower falls to the upper falls.
Four members of the audience voiced their opposition to closing the road to motorized vehicles.
“What I don’t think the county commissioners are comprehending, what the Appalachian [Mountain Club] isn’t comprehending, what Mr. Leathers isn’t comprehending is the will of the people of Elliotsville,” said Clowes Brown, who said he has been a resident of the township for more than 40 years. “You’re taking that away from, not just the elderly, you’re taking that away from people who don’t want to walk in there. There are people in the world who do not want to do these things.”
Lizotte said some sort of compromise had to be made.
“How do you come up with a resolution of two diametrically opposite intentions? What you have to come up with is a compromise. Neither the people in Elliotsville [nor the] landowner … want to compromise. It’s up to the county commissioners to come up with a compromise,” said Lizotte. “What Mark Leathers has sketched out for you is a classic compromise.
“Now, hikers and motorized vehicles — I see that as incompatible uses in those areas. You can’t have both in the same area, and that’s what we’re talking about,” said Lizotte.
Carol “Sandy” Kelly, who owns land beyond the end of Campground Road with her husband, Scott, said many older people are unable to walk the road to get to the falls. She added that families with children may also find it difficult.
“It’s a long walk for people of a certain age,” said Kelly. “The families I saw [at the falls were] with their children. I think it would be a bit of an issue to close [the road] off at the beginning.”
Among the frequent problems at the former campground area, said Leathers, were people illegally camping and starting fires on the private property. Elliotsville Plantation Inc.’s proposal would cut down on that, he said.
Once the proposed plan is in place, the commissioners will vote again during their next meeting, on Aug. 28, to make the discontinuance official.