PATTEN, Maine — All-terrain vehicles have been barred from Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument land until a local ATV club and federal officials can reach an agreement over access.
Town officials and Patten ATV Club members are disappointed with the ban, Town Manager Raymond Foss said. It prevents what club and town officials had described as traditional use of ATVs on the privately-owned American Thread Road, an approximately seven-mile loop that offers a gorgeous viewshed as it runs from the northwest corner of town through the northeast corner of monument lands.
“We feel that ATV access is a traditional use of that land, and we need to find a way to [re-establish] that access,” Foss said. “That [monument] land had always been used for that purpose, and [previous landowner Elliotsville Plantation, Inc.] granted use for that access. They did tell the ATV club that this would be an issue prior to the gifting of this land, so they [club leaders] weren’t totally blindsided, but it also wasn’t included in the deeds to make this work.”
The National Park Service took deeded possession of about 87,563 acres east of Baxter State Park from Elliotsville Plantation, Inc. a day before President Barack Obama signed an executive order designating the land as a monument on Aug. 24. A nonprofit foundation, EPI manages the holdings of Roxanne Quimby, the Burt’s Bees entrepreneur who made it her goal to donate land to the people of the United States.
The designation was controversial. Forest products industries and sportsmen opposed it, partly because they believed the introduction of federal authority to the area would lead to their losing access to the land. Others, including local businesses, said a monument would bolster a sagging Katahdin region economy devastated by mill closures.
The designation included deeded provisions for hunting and snowmobiling access on an existing snowmobile trail but not for ATV access, Foss said. Under park service regulations, ATVs are not allowed off road on national monument lands but can be used on existing public roads as registered vehicles, according to Tim Hudson, the NPS director of the Katahdin Woods and Waters monument.
However, unlike most states, Maine doesn’t register ATVs with its Department of Motor Vehicles. ATV use is permitted in Maine through registration with the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, said Dennis Brackett, the club’s trailmaster.
Even if the club and federal officials reach an accord, ATVs might never use at least part of American Thread Road again. The company that owns or manages about 1½ miles of the road, Prentiss & Carlisle Co. Inc., prohibits ATV use on its lands, said Bill Miller, a company vice-president.
Miller said that a recent telephone conversation with Brackett was the first word Prentiss & Carlisle officials had that ATVers were using their land. Brackett said that ATVs had used the road for years.
“They must have been using it [the road] illegally,” Miller said. “We don’t allow ATVs on our lands and we don’t expect that will change.”
Prentiss & Carlisle owns or manages approximately 53,000 acres contiguous to monument boundaries just east of the East Branch of the Penobscot River, Miller said.
Fortunately for the club, loss of the looped road doesn’t eliminate access to the northern Maine ATV trail network, which still can be gained via a trail off Route 11, Brackett said.
Meanwhile, club members have agreed to not ride on monument lands until an agreement concerning ATV use has been reached with park service officials, Hudson said.
That effort “is in the very beginnings,” Hudson said. “We are trying to work our way through it. As we get information we will pursue it as quickly as we can.”
Also, the Board of Selectmen will vote Wednesday, Sept. 21, on an language used in an ordinance change and a contract that would allow ATVs access on all town roads. The board agreed to pursue the agreement with a 5-0 vote on Sept. 7, Foss said.
Besides making the town more accessible to the lucrative ATV recreational market, the new regulation should help the town and club secure an agreement with federal officials for access to monument lands, the town manager said.
No timeline for an access agreement has been set.