Troy Haney (right) and Jim Gamage speak to the Caribou Planning Board about their proposed log cabin village, which they believe would help boost tourism in the city. Credit: Melissa Lizotte / Aroostook Republican

CARIBOU, Maine — Two Aroostook County businessmen want to launch Maine’s first log cabin village to help boost tourism.

When Troy Haney and Jim Gamage started to plan the upcoming SnowBowl, Caribou’s inaugural snowmobile festival slated in March, they discovered area hotels already lack enough rooms for the thousands of people expected to attend.

Aroostook is a prime spot for snowmobiling, ATVing and other seasonal activities, so hotel rooms tend to fill up quickly. But with the recent closure of the Presque Isle Inn & Convention Center, travelers in the region now have one less option to choose from, as Caribou tries to better market its outdoor experiences.

“I often say that Caribou has the DisneyWorld of outdoor recreation but not the marketing of DisneyWorld,” Haney said. “If we don’t have the lodging to support tourism, it doesn’t matter how many people know about us.”

Local hotels are full with any large event, he said, and owners are not expanding.

But if Haney and Gamage have their way, Caribou might soon be the first Maine community to have a village of furnished, year-round cottages. Located near the Caribou Municipal Airport and on the site of a former trailer park, the enterprise would add a new lodging option.

Inspired by similar villages in New Hampshire and Wyoming, the partners plan to set up about 20 deluxe cabins with full-sized kitchens and bathrooms, air conditioning and heating units, home furniture and covered front porches. Each could house four to eight people.

A clubhouse near the main entrance would include a lounge and entertainment area, a small convenience store and additional bathrooms, showers and laundry facilities.

But for now, the idea is in limbo as the developers and the city try to secure Federal Aviation Administration approval, which could take months.

The 7 1/2-acre parcel is next to the city-owned Caribou Municipal Airport near snowmobile and ATV trails.  

The airport’s first two landing strips were built in 1929. As the airport expanded its runways and hangar space over the decades, the city relied on FAA grants to help fund those projects.

“These grants are essentially agreements with the FAA, [saying] that the FAA would be involved with any decisions about the airport,” City Manager Penny Thompson said.

Any new non-aviation development the city proposes for airport land must state how it would benefit airport traffic and not risk pilot safety, Thompson said.

Acquiring FAA approval and preparing the land for new development will likely take months, Caribou Code Enforcement Officer Ken Murchison said.

First, the partners and the city need to draft a proposal to the FAA, including the city’s site design review, new zoning definitions, a business plan and proposed layout.

The Caribou Planning Board would need to create zoning changes for that portion of the airport land to go from industrial to commercial, residential or a combination of the two zones. The Caribou City Council would approve the changes.

If the FAA approves, it could release the property to the city through a lease or lease-to-purchase agreement. That would give the city full authority to develop the village.

For Haney and Gamage, the village’s benefits are obvious: more lodging and recreational opportunities for visitors who fly in on private planes, as well as medical staff from nearby Cary Medical Center.

“We can coordinate with local snowmobile dealers to have [pilots’] snowmobiles placed next to their cabins,” Haney said.

Should the idea gain the FAA’s green light, once the first 20 cabins are completed they want to add recreational vehicle sites and eventually add 30 more cottages.