TOWNSHIP D — A bald eagle soared high over the Height of Land overlook beside Route 17 Saturday morning just prior to a groundbreaking ceremony for a $2.9 million reconstruction.
From far below in Bemis Stream Valley came the muted rumble of heavy equipment at a logging operation as Gov. John Baldacci, representatives of Maine members of Congress, state Reps. Sheryl Briggs and Jarrod Crockett, officials from the Rangeley Lakes Heritage Trust and other state and local officials gathered for the occasion.
All had a hand in bringing the Scenic Byway to fruition after 40 years of false starts, and working to conserve 500 acres around the overlook and down to the waterline that was bought in 2007 by the trust.
“It's all about that view,” Baldacci said, staring out over the tops of trees at Mooselookmeguntic Lake and the Bemis Mountain Range.
“That view says 'Maine,'" Baldacci said. "It gives people an inspiration and it's going to be that way forever.”
Rebecca Kurtz, Rangeley Lakes Scenic Byway coordinator, said the project is expected to take 12 to 18 months and provide 100 construction jobs. Contractor Pike Industries is set to begin this fall.
Route 17 will be pushed 10 to 15 feet east into the woods from its current location at the overlook, Kurtz said.
A mile of new road will be built higher than the current road, which will be made into the overlook turnout, complete with a picnic area and parking.
“There will be a terraced road with a green median and a turnout so, as you drive by, you can still catch the view,” Kurtz said.
The picnic area will consist of stone tablet picnic tables.
“The Lands for Maine's Future program invested in this project as part of their focus on coordination with economic development goals of local communities,” said Alan Stearns, deputy director of the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands.
Land for Maine's Future invested $379,000 in the project in a 2007 bond issue approved by voters, trust Executive Director Nancy Perlson said.
"This would not have happened without the support of the Land for Maine's Future program," Perlson said.
Stearns said the project will include a new trail head for the Appalachian Trail, which summits Route 17 just down the road from the overlook.
“We were very conscious of the access point to the trail head and that we improve it,” said Larry Johannesman, senior landscape architect for the Maine Department of Transportation.
“Hikers will be able to walk behind a new section of guardrail in this overlook,” Johannesman said. “We designed that in there. They can walk down behind the guardrail safely to get to the trail.”
The area now is unsafe for parking and hiking, Stearns said.
“So, having parking off the road and better crossings of the road for the Appalachian Trail will be good both for hiking and tourism,” he said.