Commissioners pledge financial support for Millinocket Lake information hub

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DOVER-FOXCROFT — Many visitors to Baxter State Park, the Golden Road, the Katahdin Woods and Waters Scenic Byway and other destinations in and near Piscataquis County will be able to learn more about the region, and use some new public restroom facilities, at a forthcoming Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) information hub at Millinocket Lake by the North Woods Trading Post and the Golden Road in T1 R9.

The Piscataquis County Commissioners opted to contribute $50,000 in existing whitewater rafting reimbursement funds along with $2,500 annually for maintenance over the next decade for the project, during a May 21 meeting.

MDOT Scenic Byways Coordinator Fred Michaud told the commissioners the state has 14 scenic byways and “they are mostly in the rural forested areas.” He said the Katahdin Woods and Waters Scenic Byway is 98 miles long, going from north and south of Baxter State Park in Piscataquis and Penobscot counties.

Michaud said a site was sought for an information hub, with traveler information, interpretative signage and restrooms, and a location about eight miles outside of Millinocket on the way to Baxter State Park — just inside the county line — has been chosen. He said a current parking area near the North Woods Trading Post is owned by Brookfield and Katahdin Forest Management, with Brookfield agreeing to lease its portion of the property to the MDOT and Katahdin Forest Management donating its half of the land.

“We want to create a feeling where people can get information and proceed into areas where they may not know much about,” Michaud said, using an example of signage with information on how to safely travel along the Golden Road.

He said there are about 70,000 annual visitors to Baxter State Park and the site of the information hub has an average of about 680 vehicles going by per day.

“The building we have proposed is a 24- by 26-foot building,” Michaud said. He said the facility would be fully ADA compliant and open from May 15 to Oct. 15.

“We are turning it into a small village, which it is anyway, but we are giving it a new look,” Michaud said.

“The current construction at the lake is scheduled to be completed by July 1, barring any unforeseen problems (nothing so far),” Michaud wrote in a follow-up email. “The county commitment of $50,000 is part of the current committed funding. To date MaineDOT has committed $50,000 and USDA is looking at the document and site plan and they seem very much interested. The maximum amount from USDA is $50,000 and that is the operative number we are working with. A private benefactor has committed $5,000, also.”

Michaud explained the target fundraising goal is $200,000, which includes the estimated $45,000 septic system — a 1,500-gallon septic tank and 48 concrete chambers — and well costs. He said in addition to the capital campaign, the MDOT is working to ensure adequate funding commitments for long-term maintenance, about $10,000 annually.

“The site without bathroom will be open following completion of this phase,” Michaud wrote. “There will be traveler information, interpretive information, great parking, good lighting. As to the bathroom being a done deal –- not yet but it is within sight and likely very attainable.”

“We are trying to repurpose this where the people are,” he said during the commissioners’ meeting, mentioning the MDOT has closed rest areas on less traveled state highways in Masardis and Oxbow.

“I’m here to ask today for a $50,000 consideration,” Michaud said.

County Manager Tom Lizotte said there is about $73,000 in an account comprised of monies from the state paid by those going on whitewater rafting trips in Piscataquis County. “We have not used anything in this since 2005,” Lizotte said, with the funds earmarked for tourism-related projects. Several thousand in rafting dollars comes into the county annually.

“It is frustrating to me because we have got all this money we can’t use,” he said. “This is the first actual request we have had,” to use the whitewater rafting funds.

The commissioners passed a motion to put $50,000 toward the information hub, along with the $2,500 per year for maintenance over the next decade.

In other business, Lizotte discussed several items in his report.

He said a public hearing on the closure of the Mountain Road in Blanchard to winter maintenance could be held during the Tuesday, July 2 meeting. Lizotte said the road is a dead end with only camps and properties in tree growth located on the travelway.

Washouts are common on the Mountain Road as a result of how narrow it is and the steep terrain. Lizotte said the lack of snow to absorb runoff after plowing leads to more washout damage, saying one 1,000-foot stretch will need about $15,000 in repairs.

“It seems to be a classic case of you don’t need to plow it, the contractor even wonders why we plow it,” Lizotte said. He said the annual savings by closing the Mountain Road to winter maintenance could be around $6,000.

The eight abutters will be notified of the potential July 2 public hearing and they will have the opportunity to speak. At a later meeting the commissioners could vote to take action.

Lizotte said he has reached out to the Atkinson selectmen to set up a driving tour of the community “to make sure they have maintained the roads and are turning over their roads in good shape,” prior to the town becoming part of the Unorganized Territory on July 1.

“The last time I went out there the roads were in good shape so I don’t anticipate any issues there,” he said.

“The commissioners received nine applications and interviewed seven people, and we want to come down to a final three,” Lizotte said about the county manager search to find who will take over after he retires in July.

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