Rain forces Maine to close all ATV trails through Memorial Day

By Pete Warner, Bangor Daily News Staff

This spring, folks who enjoy journeying through the Maine woods on all-terrain vehicles will have to wait a bit longer. 

Riders should expect all trails to remain closed through Memorial Day weekend, according to a release from the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.

Trails have been damaged by runoff from melting snow, thawing soil and winter damage from fallen trees. Landowners and the state are preparing to deal with further challenges caused by the recent torrential rains.

“We’ve literally got trails underwater, bridges washed out,” said Brian Bronson, supervisor of the Off-road Recreational Vehicle Office of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry’s Bureau of Parks and Lands.

“In many cases, the trails are too soft for us to even get big equipment in to actually do repairs yet. And here it is raining again today,” Bronson said.

While many trails in Maine are closed during April and the beginning of May for the state’s “mud season,” the extended closure is an attempt to prevent overzealous riders from hitting the trails prematurely and causing additional harm to areas that may already have been damaged.

Bronson said there might still be a possibility, if the weather dries out, that some trails will be able to open sooner than that. However, he cautioned that even passages such as the Down East Sunrise Trail have not been worked on yet. And the process can take a couple of weeks.

Bronson received photos from Aroostook County that showed snow still covering ATV trails located in shaded areas.

Even last year, some trails didn’t open until June because the ground was too wet and soft.

John Raymond, president of ATV Maine, said clubs and riders are taking the news in stride and are used to spring fluctuations in trail conditions.

“We don’t like to delay the opening, but with the rain that we have had lately it will be a late opening,” Raymond said. “We can make it up on the other end with a late fall.”

Both Bronson and Raymond stressed that safety and respecting the landowners who provide the trails across the state are more important than getting ATV season started.

“Over 95 percent of the trails are on private land, and we had to be good shepherds of their lands because not taking good care of them will be a lot worse than having them closed for a week or two longer,” Raymond said.

A storm that swept through Maine dumped as much as 6 inches of rain in some areas. The excess water led to swollen rivers, streams and beaver flows, which have taken a toll on already soggy ATV trails, especially in western Maine.

Among the worst situations is the washout of a steel-beam bridge measuring 60 feet long and 12 feet wide in southern Maine.

“They haven’t even found the bridge yet,” Bronson said.

A blocked culvert along a highway in Wilton backed up and has left the entire ATV trail there underwater. Another bridge washed out in Strong. 

“This kind of rain and water flow is certainly abnormal,” Bronson said. 

Bronson said it appears northern Maine fared better because it did not receive as much rain.

With luck, and an end to the rain, water levels will recede, roads and trails will dry out, and repair work can begin.

“If it continues to rain 2 to 4 inches in different areas for several days or, even worse, several weeks, it can cause a lot of erosion and that could be high maintenance costs, so that would be of great concern,” Raymond said.

Bronson said by announcing trail closures, the state also hopes to save ATV operators the aggravation of driving two hours to a trail only to find out that it isn’t open.

“It’s about managing expectations,” Bronson said. “It’s going to take a minute to fix all this stuff, and obviously the water levels are going to have to go down before we can even think about it.”

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