HOWLAND, Maine — If you’re an all-terrain vehicle rider, move into town and bring some of the $250 million in revenue that ATVs generate for the state annually, Howland officials said Thursday.
The Board of Selectmen voted 4-0 on Monday to allow ATVs on Penobscot Avenue, Willow and Water streets and the Coffin Street bridge over the Piscataquis River, Town Manager William Lawrence said.
With state law allowing ATV use on as much as 500 yards of a public way to get on a trail, crossing or a designated ATV-use area, the vote effectively opens the majority of town housing — at least a dozen roads — to trails that run north to Lincoln and statewide ATV trail networks, officials said.
“It has been a goal of ours for several years now to get the ATV and snowmobile trails to come right through town and help our economic development,” said Glenn Brawn, chairman of the Board of Selectmen. “The next thing we are going after is getting the new ITS [snowmobile] trail going through town.”
It is “pretty rare” for towns to allow ATVs over the majority of their roads, said Scott Ramsay, director of the state’s Off-Road Vehicle program at the state Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.
Ramsay didn’t have a specific number but guessed that a half-dozen towns statewide might have Howland’s kind of access to the state’s 6,100 miles of trails, the largest ATV trail network in the country.
“It is kind of a mixed bag. There are towns that don’t allow it at all. Period,” Ramsay said Thursday. “But in a town like Greenville, you can come right into downtown right into Main Street on an ATV. Essentially, you can access any business in town or people in town can get out.”
Members of the Seboeis Stream ATV Club of Howland sought the access to Howland’s downtown, according to 81-year-old Joe Barker of Howland, trailmaster of the 48-member club.
With the new street access, ATV riders can ride from Seboeis and Lincoln onto Kelly Trail, the club’s local trail, and along Penobscot Avenue to Willow and Water streets. They can get across the Piscataquis via the $10 million Coffin Street bridge, which was opened in 2013, Barker said
“It brings some people into town — some commerce, but not a lot,” Barker said. “Every little bit helps, and Howland sure as hell needs it.”
The bridge was built with a wide shoulder specifically for ATV and snowmobile traffic, although ATV traffic dead-ends just west of the bridge. Riders were already using the bridge informally, Lawrence said.
Club members might seek an ATV trail designation for River Road, which runs parallel to the west bank of the Piscataquis River for several miles, Barker said. They have worked for years, unsuccessfully, to establish a connection to a trail network that runs east of Milo and South LaGrange. That connection would allow Howland to capture more of the $250 million that state officials estimate that Maine gets from the ATV industry annually, Ramsay said.
More ATV access, Brawn said, is among several things town officials are working on to improve the economy of the town, which is south of Lincoln at Exit 217 of Interstate 95 in northern Penobscot County.
“Anything we can do to bring a few dollars to town is what we are all about,” Brawn said. “I don’t think there will be any one big thing that is going to improve the town’s economy. I think it is going to be a whole lot of small things. That’s what I think we have to go after.”