FORT KENT, Maine — A lack of snowmobile access to downtown businesses located along and near West Main Street in Fort Kent didn’t last long as town officials worked quickly to rectify the situation.
Landowner Jim Bouchard suddenly denied access last Thursday to a vacant lot he owns on the street where snowmobilers normally crossed after riding along the Fort Kent levee next to the St. John River.
Bouchard placed no trespassing signs and an orange plastic barrier at the entrance of the lot, which was the only access point snowmobilers had from the levee trail connector off the ITS 85 trail to West Main Street.
Just five days later, the town has a new access site in place.
Public Works Director Tony Theriault and his crew spent several hours Tuesday afternoon building a ramp on state-owned property between the International Bridge and America’s First Mile Monument, just west of Bouchard’s property. The ramp will allow snowmobile riders to exit the levee trail onto the West Main Street area.
The West Main Street area includes multiple restaurants, a gas station, tavern, motel and a variety of other businesses.
Public works employee Chad R. Pelletier operated a payloader to scoop out snow in an area where culverts were then installed to drain runoff water away from the ramp.
The employees then transported dump trucks full of snow to the site, where Theriault used the town’s giant snowblower to pile the snow in the form of a ramp leading up to the levee trail.
Public works builds a similar ramp in the same area each year for mushers and their teams of sled dogs to access the levee during the annual Can Am Crown International Sled Dog Races held in March.
Town officials and local business owners feared that the lack of snowmobile access to businesses at the west end of town would hurt the local economy. Town Manager Suzie Paradis and Director of Planning and Economic Development Steve Pelletier worked with other departments to find a solution.
Fort Kent Fire Chief Ed Endee, who is also co-owner of Swamp Buck restaurant on West Main Street, said he is pleased with how quickly the community united and worked to solve the problem.
“All of the town officials, the snowmobile club and other [residents] came together to make this work out for both the snowmobilers and local businesses in Fort Kent,” Endee said. “I’d like to get the word out to all people that we’re still open for business in Fort Kent.”
Pelletier said he and Paradis had been in frequent contact with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Maine Department of Transportation to gain approval for the new snowmobile access site.
The levee, which was built to protect the town from flooding, is overseen by the Corps — the only group authorized to approve access points for snowmobiles along the structure.
The DOT also approved the new access site, which Pelletier said provides a more open view of traffic than the previous site — something that could benefit both snowmobilers and motorists.
The ramp will be in place to allow access to the downtown area for the remainder of the winter, Pelletier said, although the town may seek a new solution for snowmobile access prior to the start of the season next year.
Bouchard declined to comment on his reason for suddenly withdrawing snowmobile access to the property.
One town official said he spoke with Bouchard, who did not provide a detailed reason for blocking snowmobile access, but said it was something between him and Circle K/Irving. That store is located directly across West Main Street from Bouchard’s lot.