MILLINOCKET, Maine — John Raymond has a great location, more than 3,000 acres, for what would be the state’s first ATV and snowmobile park.
It’s between East Millinocket and Millinocket, with a sterling view of the entire region, and it’s far enough away from any neighborhood so that no one would be bothered by noise from the park’s ATVs and snowmobiles. It’s also accessible from Medway via a snowmobile trail. And it’s owned by the state, which presumably wouldn’t mind helping draw more tourists to the region, Raymond said.
One problem — it’s a dump.
The former town councilor says that the Northern Timber Cruisers ATV and Snowmobile Club is working with a local land manager to see whether an all-terrain-vehicle park could go onto some of the 3,500-acre Dolby landfill area once owned by Great Northern Paper Co. No timeline for the park’s establishment has been set.
“If we could get up there, we would have a great view of the whole region,” Raymond said Monday. “It’s close so that you won’t have to go a long distance to do some trail loops. It’s right off of Route 11. It makes for a great destination. There are no ATV parks in the state.”
The multi-use park’s primary goal: to help draw some of the more than $250 million in revenue that state officials estimate is provided by ATV sales and use in Maine annually.
The state has 6,500 miles worth of trails, said John Bott, spokesman for the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, which oversees ATVs. Bott cautioned that the $250 million estimate is 14 years old and that the revenue has almost certainly increased.
The state’s snowmobile industry draws $300-$350 million into Maine annually, officials have said, and the Katahdin region’s snowmobile trails are nationally-renowned.
The idea is far from finalized, but early signs have been encouraging, said Raymond, a club member who helped create the area’s first networked ATV trail in 2012. Katahdin Forest Management owns the timber rights to the land but the company’s president, Marcia McKeague, suggested using the landfill lands when she heard that the club was looking for a park site, Raymond said.
McKeague said she suggested the idea because a block of land near Dolby is owned by the town of East Millinocket, which would make it a good place to host an economic development project.
Michael Barden, landfill oversight manager with the Maine Department of Economic & Community Development, said the club’s idea is at least possible.
The park and its visitors could not be allowed to disturb the approximately 175 acres that have been filled with paper mill debris and other refuse over the last 40 years, he said. The state is paying $12 million over the next four years to cap about 75 acres of landfill on the site, so that construction work might impede park plans, Barden said.
“There would be some challenges with doing that [creating the park], but it wouldn’t necessarily be off the table,” Barden said Monday. “We would have to know a lot more about it, of course.”
Bob Meyers, executive director of the Maine Snowmobile Association, said Raymond had “an interesting idea.
“From our experience, snowmobilers like to go someplace, so a park doesn’t necessarily play into that. The ATVs are a lot more inclined to use something like that,” Meyers said.
A good track record
Club members haven’t yet approached Barden or the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife about their plans, Bott said.
Barden said he’s never heard of any part of a dump being used as an ATV park. The landfill is used occasionally by the towns of East Millinocket, Medway and Millinocket, which store their wood ash from burn piles and wastewater treatment residuals there.
But Raymond and former Millinocket Town Council member Paul Sannicandro have a good record creating ATV opportunities. They and several other volunteers helped create the 16.5-mile multiuse recreational trail that runs from the Northern Timber Cruisers clubhouse just outside town to Seboeis Plantation.
The five-year project, which began in 2007, was a massive undertaking. Paid for with an estimated $500,000 worth of in-kind donations and grants, it features 170 culverts, 450 signs, a bridge over the Penobscot River and a spur into downtown Millinocket.
Raymond’s model for the multi-purpose park is Jericho Mountain State Park in Berlin, N.H., home of an ATV festival that draws tens of thousands of enthusiasts annually, he said.
He envisions the park including trails usable year-round for cross-country skiing, mountain bikes and possibly even Jeeps, plus solar-powered campgrounds. A solar array that could power park needs, or produce wholesale electricity might also fit in, given the land’s elevation, said Raymond, who enjoys the irony of trying to repurpose the landfill lands.
The state assuming ownership of the landfill was a crucial part of its effort to facilitate Cate Street Capital’s purchase of the mill sites in Millinocket and East Millinocket for $1 in the fall of 2011. Cate Street’s efforts fell through, giving rise, Raymond said, to criticisms that all the Katahdin region got from the company’s promises was a landfill that will cost the state an estimated $17 million to eventually close.
Raymond cautioned that residents, state officials and Katahdin Forest Management all will have a strong say in whatever shape the park takes.
“It all depends on what KFM and the state allow us to do on the landfill lands,” Raymond said.
A trail to Stacyville
The Katahdin region can use a boost. The closure of its two paper mills has devastated the region’s economy, creating double-digit unemployment and a population exodus.
“I’m open to anything that can bring economic vitality to our area,” Raymond said. “And think of this: If we own the lands outright, then the state can harvest the wood every 20-25 years and make money on it and it’s a win-win for everyone.”
Many landowners are leery of ATVs, fearing the vandalism, illegal dumping and tire damage that sometimes occurs with trails. But the club has been a good steward of landowners’ trust and earned the respect of downtown businesses by building the spur, which was expanded this summer.
Raymond and other volunteers also are working to extend the 16.5-mile trail northeast to the Stacyville area, where it would be the first connection between the state’s northern and southern trail networks.
They have sent letters to landowners along their proposed route and drawn letters of support from the Medway Board of Selectmen and the Katahdin Valley Four Wheelers Club, whose members are working on the northern end of the proposed connection. East Millinocket and Millinocket leaders have expressed support of the idea, Raymond said.
The number of registered ATVs in Maine has risen from 61,902 machines in 2013 to 66,617 last year, Bott said.