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Monument needs more areas open to snowmobiling

Reprinted with MSA permission from the February 2018 issue of The Maine Snowmobiler

Ya can’t get there from here.

That old punchline from Marshall Dodge’s Burt & I routines almost never failed to get a laugh fifty years ago, but even today like all good comedy, it’s the hint of truth in it that makes it work.

On January 24, I attended the latest of the series of planning meetings for the Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument in East Millinocket. I had avoided them until now, but the theme was winter use, so this one was necessary because it turns out that snowmobiling is the predominate use of the monument during the winter months. It hasn’t been without its challenges, but for the most part snowmobiling is working to the point that I would hazard a guess that it could even exceed the sluggish summer visitation. That is probably thanks to the dedication and work of the local clubs who completely understand the need to get south-north. The local snowmobile community was well-represented, and as usual had a firm grasp of what was happening on the ground. The rest of the crowd was locals, some outfitters and of course the usual suspects from the environmental community.

Bob Meyers on a trail near Matagamon in the monument that’s now closed to snowmobiling.

Following planning guidelines, we were split into seven small groups with an assignment to come up with lists of activities, benefits and roadblocks to achieving usage goals. The almost immediate comments were directed at the lack of facilities and lack of access in the wintertime. A lack of cabins for overnight trekkers and toilet facilities was noted.

By the design of the donors, snowmobile use is limited on the west side of the East Branch, which is too bad. As it turns out, snowmobiling is important to the trail system, and at the same time it is an important method of access to a variety of non-motorized use. Due to the location and absence of roads that were transferred to the feds, those who wish to engage in non-motorized activities in many areas of the monument are faced with trekking by foot up to 6-8 miles before they get to where they want to start. One older woman in our group kept talking about the importance of “quiet areas” and “dark skies,” but acknowledged that there was really no way to get to those “special” places.

Which brings us back to snowmobiles. Opening up more areas to snowmobiling would obviously increase non-motorized activities for other users. Heck, maybe some enterprising outfitters could even offer snowmobile rides into the back country like they do at Baxter State Park.

I thought I was quite clever suggesting that KWWNM could adopt the same snowmobile use policy as Acadia National Park. That is any road that is open to motorized traffic in the summer and is unplowed in the winter is open to snowmobiles. It works very well at Acadia and at KWWNM it would open up the Loop Road and significantly increase access to the areas people want to visit. When all the groups reported back at the end of the evening, I was pleased to learn that the six other groups had also come to the same conclusions. I guess that means I wasn’t so creative after all, but then again, great minds think alike.

The only thing holding this back is the ill-conceived deed restrictions put in place by the donors (which I think the Park Service could deal with), and the prostrations of the environmental groups, which if the truth be known, don’t really want people to enjoy the outdoors anyway.

So, that’s my story for this month. I may even go back to another planning session. In the meantime you can weigh in too. The planning process will be going on for several more months, and all are welcome to submit comments to the planning group. Their contact info can be found at https://www.nps.gov/kaww/getinvolved/planning.htm.

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