A train goes over a railroad.
A Maine Central and Quebec Railway locomotive hauls a turbine propeller through Prospect. Credit: Harry Gordon / Maine Central and Quebec Railways

Brian Fisk bought a 130-acre lot of undeveloped woods and wetlands in Bradford in 2016 so he could have an area of wilderness of his own to enjoy and to preserve access for the local hikers, hunters and other outdoor enthusiasts who know the plot well.

The only way to access the land has been to cross railroad tracks at the end of rural Gravey Lane, where for years there was a crossing in place so vehicles and people could safely — and legally — get over the tracks.

But the company that owns the railroad removed that crossing at some point over the past two years, and it won’t install a new one, effectively blocking Fisk’s only legal access to his land. The removal has also complicated his plans to sell the land.

“Nobody can get there now unless you have a helicopter, which would be absurd,” he said.

Fisk, 66, discovered that the crossing had been removed earlier this year when he started looking at selling the property to cover medical costs. At a time when property values are rising, there’s been interest in the land, but Fisk can’t sell unless he can restore legal access to it.

“I can’t go to my property that I pay taxes on every year,” Fisk said. “I can’t use it and can’t access it legally.”

For years, a crossing made up of gravel and dirt made it less bumpy for snowmobiles, ATVs and other vehicles to cross the tracks, he said. Most people who access the land use a vehicle to get onto it.

Animal tracks go over railroad tracks in the snow.
Otter tracks cross over railroad tracks in Bradford that cut off access to Brian Fisk’s property. Credit: Courtesy of Rick Theriault

Now, there’s no way to cross except by foot. But with the crossing removed, it would be considered trespassing to walk across the tracks because those are the property of the railroad company, Fisk said.

“I’m basically up the creek without a paddle,” he said.

Fisk asked Central Maine and Quebec Railway in January to restore the crossing. In response, the company — which is owned by Canadian Pacific Railway — denied his request and said it frequently removes unsafe and unauthorized crossings.

A spokesperson for Canadian Pacific Railway said the company is “discussing” the issue with the property owner.

But Fisk said he’s sent half a dozen emails and filed form after form to get the crossing restored, but the January email denying his request is the only communication he’s received from the railroad company.

In that email, the company told him to use the nearest public crossing to access the land.

However, that access point is half a mile up the tracks, and to get to Fisk’s land from there would involve either walking along the tracks or through someone else’s land — both of which would involve trespassing. If Fisk and others opted to go through the woods, they would have to figure out how to cross the Dead Stream to access the land, he said.

“It boils down to a land rights issue. It’s an access issue,” Fisk said. “So why, why, why, why not install a crossing? It’s a very simple crossing.”

Fisk said he reached out to more than 10 lawyers in Maine to see if they would help him get the crossing back, but all of them declined to represent him, he said.

Fisk said he wants to sell the land and move on, but he can’t until a crossing is back in place. What is even more frustrating is that there have been several offers on the property, he said.

Initially, the land was listed for sale at $80,000, but at least one offer came in at more than $100,000. But Fisk said he had to take the property off the market because no one would buy the property without legal access to the land.

Sawyer Loftus is an investigative reporter at the Bangor Daily News. A graduate of the University of Vermont, Sawyer grew up in Vermont where he worked for Vermont Public Radio, The Burlington Free Press...