MILLINOCKET, Maine — The two largest networks of trails in Maine’s $250 million all-terrain vehicle industry don’t connect.
That’s a sad fact, says Scott Ramsay, director of the state’s Off-Road Vehicle program at the state Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. So the first Maine town to build a trail connecting the Moosehead Lake region and areas farther west to the trail networks of Aroostook County and east of Interstate 95 could reap huge benefits, Ramsay says.
The Katahdin region can make that connection, John Raymond says.
Raymond and fellow volunteer Paul Sannicandro, who already helped create a 16.5-mile connection from the Northern Timber Cruisers clubhouse just outside town to the southern ATV network, have begun working with three Aroostook County ATV clubs to develop a trail that would connect the clubhouse to the Benedicta area, Raymond said.
Benedicta has a connection that runs under the biggest single obstacle to a true statewide ATV network: Interstate 95. The Benedicta connection plugs into trail networks that run from Patten and Sherman farther north into The County, as well as along the coast.
“Everything that would come over the trail from the northeast or from the southwest would have to come through here,” Raymond, who is president of the Northern Timber Cruisers and a former Town Council member, said.
“The first connection between the two networks will be significant to the networks and particularly to the two towns,” Ramsay said.
A lot of ATV riders would love it, Ramsay said.
According to the 2015 state ATV trail map, Raymond’s proposed trail would connect Millinocket to areas as far north as Madawaska and as far east as Van Buren. The 16.5-mile trail running south from Millinocket connects to West Seboeis — listed on several maps as Seboeis Unit — and to trails as far south as Newport and west to the Canadian border near Jackman and Route 201.
The next closest east-west connection in northern Maine, from Lincoln to the town of Seboeis, ends southeast of the West Seboeis connection and near Howland.
Raymond cautioned his proposed trail is far from a done deal.
The volunteers must map exactly where the trail might go. Then they have to negotiate rights-of-way with private landowners, raise money for trail construction, get state permits for the trail and get the trail built.
It took five years before the Katahdin Region Multi-Use Trail they helped create opened for its first full year in May 2012. The first networked ATV trail in the region, it was a major undertaking, with 170 culverts, 450 signs, a bridge over the Penobscot River and a spur into downtown Millinocket, Raymond said.
The KRMUT trail probably would have cost about $500,000 if not for fundraising, grants and in-kind donations from area businesses and Timber Cruiser volunteers, Raymond said. As with the state’s snowmobile industry, which generates $300 million to $350 million annually, most ATV trails are built and maintained by volunteers and are vital to the industry.
Under state law, ATVs can operate on a public way no more than 500 yards on the extreme right of the traveled way and only for the purpose of crossing.
The cooperation of private landowners also is important. Many of them are forest products industry stalwarts, making ATV traffic a sensitive issue, Raymond said.
“We understand as a working group that it is entirely up to the private landowners to make this trail come to fruition. Ninety-seven percent of all state ATV or snowmobile trails go across private lands,” Raymond said. “We can’t just do this. We need landowner permission.”
Town Council members, whom Raymond briefed during a meeting on Thursday, said they support his efforts.
The project “adds to our recreational value,” council Chairman Richard Angotti Jr. said.
“It will have a really good effect on the hotels and lodges in the area,” Town Manager John Davis said.
The Island Falls Free Wheelers, Katahdin Valley Wheelers and Patten ATV Club are equal partners in the new trail, Raymond said. They will start mapping and negotiations with landowners at their end of the proposed trail as Timber Cruiser club members do the same from the south.
Raymond doesn’t own an ATV. He became involved in trail development, he said, to help the Katahdin region’s economy. It lost about 450 well-paying jobs with the closure of two region paper mills in 2008 and 2014, has unemployment that typically runs double the state average, and declining population and state aid that for about a decade has forced town government and school budget cuts.
Maine’s all-terrain vehicle programs can help. Statewide, the ATV industry generates about $250 million annually in revenue, Ramsay said.
The number of state-registered ATVs has only grown slightly in recent years — from 61,000 in 2013 to 64,000 so far this year — but the types of ATVs have expanded to include two- and four-seaters. That indicates that more people are riding ATVs, and the $250 million estimate is about 10 years old, Ramsay said.
Maine has the nation’s largest ATV trail system — about 6,100 miles — and the most clubs of any state with 140, Ramsay said.
Raymond said he hopes to have the trail built in three years. But one thing could make possible the finishing of the trail as early as the end of next summer. A snowmobile trail already runs between Benedicta and the Katahdin region. That trail could be adapted to accommodate ATV traffic, which is much rougher on trails than snowmobiles.
“That could work, but that’s a mighty big if,” Raymond said.
— Maine has the largest ATV trail system in the U.S., with 6,100 miles, and the most clubs of any state, with 140.
— About 97 percent of all snowmobile and ATV trails cross private land, and 90 percent of them are maintained by volunteers.
— Maine law protects private landowner from liability for accident or injuries on their property resulting from public use, as with trails. The rare exceptions are if they charge a fee for access to their land or if they do something intentionally to harm someone.
— The state covers on average 65 to 75 percent of trail development and maintenance costs reported through trail grants to clubs and towns. Those reported costs average $1,150,000 per year, and reimbursement grants are $750,000-$800,000 per year.
SOURCE: Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry