KATAHDIN WOODS AND WATERS NATIONAL MONUMENT, Maine — The unpaved logging roads that lead to Maine’s national monument were never meant for tourists.
Strewn with holes, rocks and ruts, the seven private roads on the National Park Service map of Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument are bumpy and sometimes narrow — not wide enough for more than one vehicle. Foliage blocks the view around many curves. Driving faster than 15 mph is dangerous. Loggers have the right of way, but few signs say so. Speed-limit signs also are rare.
That’s why a dozen representatives of the loggers, landowners, truckers and National Park Service officials are working to prevent crashes on the roads that lead to the 87,562-acre Katahdin Woods, which critics say are unfit for tourist traffic.
“We are trying to be pre-emptive,” said Dana Doran, executive director of Professional Logging Contractors of Maine, a group that represents most of the interests of the forest-products industry near the area and opposes the monument. “There are some dangerous turns and some dangerous hills on roads near the monument.”
The group has met three times since the monument’s creation in August 2016, Doran said.
The loggers plan to install more right of way signs and work at times when tourist traffic is minimal, while the park service plans to spot-grade the road leading to the monument’s main entrance.
A lot rides on the monument’s first full year of operation. Proponents hope the gift to the nation from Burt’s Bees entrepreneur Roxanne Quimby will jumpstart the Katahdin region’s economy. Critics contend it was created without adequate input from people who live or work in the area, including loggers who have said tourist traffic is a safety risk in their woods.
Monument Superintendent Tim Hudson said the roads are not terrible. Last fall, crews employed by the park service graded Swift Brook Road and Katahdin Woods’ 16-mile main Loop Road entrance. NPS-funded crews will spot-grade Swift Brook in a few weeks, he said.
Swift Brook Road “could be improved and made more rideable for people without making it a superhighway,” Hudson said recently.
Monument officials encourage visitors to get into the monument through Swift Brook, which connects to the main Loop Road entrance, the Grondin Road leading to the monument’s most northeastern parcel, and via Grand Lake Road, which runs to the land’s northern entrance. The park service discourages tourists from using the other roads, which lack rights of way for tourist traffic, Hudson said.
“We don’t just want to avoid accidents,” Doran said. “We want to educate people visiting the monument so that they are aware of the work that’s being done.”
The loggers and landowners are generally working together well with the park service despite some differences and external pressures. Needing three years to finish their monument management plan, National Park Service officials are building out features within the monument now and hoping for a gradual increase in its traffic, despite pressure to draw tourists in immediately. Some Katahdin region businesses hope to soon see an eighth road that would connect Millinocket, the region’s largest town, to the monument.
Loggers fear that in the longer term the tourists and monument itself will prove enough of a hassle to push landowners and loggers out of the forest products industry.
Meanwhile, the monument’s traffic so far this year has almost equaled the 1,762 vehicles that a traffic sensor counted on the Loop Road in 2016.
As of Monday, 1,747 vehicles had visited the monument: 1,042 vehicles on the Loop Road since it opened May 25, 425 on the north entrance since its May 13 opening, and 272 on Grondin Road since a traffic counter was installed there in June, Hudson said.