Katahdin can be seen from an outlook on an unnamed 0.5-mile trail that travels over an esker near the south entrance of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. Credit: Aislinn Sarnacki

DOVER-FOXCROFT — Visitors to Baxter State Park, the Golden Road, the Katahdin Woods and Waters Scenic Byway and other destinations in and near Piscataquis County will be able to learn more about the region, and use some new public restroom facilities, at a forthcoming Maine Department of Transportation information hub at Millinocket Lake near the North Woods Trading Post and the Golden Road in Township 1 Range 9.

Funding for the $200,000 project took a big step forward Tuesday when the Piscataquis County Commissioners opted to contribute $50,000 in existing whitewater rafting reimbursement funds along with $2,500 annually for maintenance over the next decade for the project. Construction of the first phase is expected to be completed July 1 and it will be open to the public soon after.

MDOT Scenic Byways Coordinator Fred Michaud told the commissioners the state has 14 scenic byways and “they are mostly in the rural forested areas.” He said the Katahdin Woods and Waters Scenic Byway is 98 miles long, stretching from north and south of Baxter State Park in Piscataquis and Penobscot counties, which made it ripe for an information center.

Michaud said a site was sought for a 24-by-26-foot building that will include traveler information, interpretive signage and restrooms. The search yielded a location about eight miles outside of Millinocket on the way to Baxter State Park — just inside the Piscataquis County line. He said a current parking area near the North Woods Trading Post is owned by Brookfield Renewable Energy and Katahdin Forest Management, with Brookfield agreeing to lease its portion of the property to the MDOT and Katahdin Forest Management donating its half of the land.

“We want to create a feeling where people can get information and proceed into areas where they may not know much about,” Michaud said, using an example of signage with information on how to safely travel along the Golden Road.

He said there are about 70,000 annual visitors to Baxter State Park and the site of the information hub has an average of about 680 vehicles going by per day.

Michaud said the facility would be fully ADA compliant and open from May 15 to Oct. 15.

“We are turning it into a small village, which it is anyway, but we are giving it a new look,” Michaud said of the area.

“The current construction at the lake is scheduled to be completed by July 1, barring any unforeseen problems (nothing so far),” Michaud wrote in a follow-up email. “The county commitment of $50,000 is part of the current committed funding. To date MaineDOT has committed $50,000 and USDA is looking at the document and site plan and they seem very much interested. The maximum amount from USDA is $50,000 and that is the operative number we are working with. A private benefactor has committed $5,000, also.”

Michaud explained the target fundraising goal is $200,000, which includes the estimated $45,000 septic system — a 1,500-gallon septic tank and 48 concrete chambers — and well costs. He said in addition to the capital campaign, the MDOT is working to ensure adequate funding commitments for long-term maintenance, about $10,000 annually.

“The site without bathroom will be open following completion of this [first] phase,” Michaud wrote. “There will be traveler information, interpretive information, great parking, good lighting. As to the bathroom being a done deal –- not yet but it is within sight and likely very attainable.”

“We are trying to repurpose this where the people are,” he said during the commissioners meeting, mentioning the MDOT has closed rest areas on less traveled state highways in Masardis and Oxbow.

County Manager Tom Lizotte said there is about $73,000 in an account comprised of monies from the state paid by those going on whitewater rafting trips in Piscataquis County. “We have not used anything in this since 2005,” Lizotte said, with the funds earmarked for tourism-related projects. Several thousand in rafting dollars comes into the county annually.

“It is frustrating to me because we have got all this money we can’t use,” he said. “This is the first actual request we have had,” to use the whitewater rafting funds.

The commissioners passed a motion to put $50,000 toward the information hub, along with the $2,500 per year for maintenance over the next decade.