SANDY RIVER PLANTATION — Franklin County’s Register of Deeds recently recorded a historic transfer of ownership of a 100-foot corridor on the Old Hudson Road near Eddy Pond, giving snowmobiles and ATVs access to connect with other maintained trails in the state. 

The Dec. 30 transfer from the federal government to the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands was the result of national, state, regional and local interests all giving a little of something they owned to gain long-term recreation and conservation efforts for future generations. More than a half-century of debate and dispute had to be put aside to make it happen.

In 1935, the National Park Service established an Appalachian Trail corridor across land that would eventually become the Saddleback Ski Resort. Forty years later, the Maine Land Use Regulation Commission designated a 200-foot protection zone along the state’s 280-mile section of the trail.

In 1983, Massachusetts businessman Donald Breen bought Saddleback Ski Resort and began a protracted battle with the NPS and with conservation groups over trail access. The NPS settled by buying a section of the property, but Breen decided to get out of the resort business. In 2003, retired University of Maine at Farmington professor Bill Berry and his family bought the resort, plus 8,000 acres.

Rangeley residents hoped that dark chapter of public access and private land ownership had closed. NPS retained ownership of 350 acres west of the Saddleback resort, and AT hikers had kept their trail protected from development.

By then, snowmobiles had become very popular, and Rangeley had one of the first clubs in the state. The western Maine Black Fly Loop had become a popular part of statewide snowmobile trail network. Mike and Julie Ferguson, lifelong residents of Rangeley, owners of Rev It Up Sports and leaders of the Camp-2 Riders ATV club, remember that fight between Breen and the NPS, and they didn’t expect to take on any controversy after Breen left the area. Mike had groomed snowmobile trails as a teenager, and the couple owns property on the state snowmobile (ITS) system.

There was only one problem, Mike Ferguson said.

“The NPS officially never relinquished jurisdiction over that western Saddleback acreage around Eddy Pond to the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands,” he said.

That meant snowmobiles had approval to cross the parcel, but ATV access had been left out of the final deal completely. He went to state government officials, to Washington, D.C., and to endless rounds of meetings across the state to plead his case. Everyone sympathized and wished him luck.

“Then, the old guard changed, and people started to think maybe it was OK to let ATVs cross that parcel,” he said. “All I did was keep shaking hands and rubbing elbows until people got interested and decided to get involved.”

In 2008, Madrid Township resident Lloyd Griscom and a group of Franklin County residents formed the High Peaks Alliance and brought diverse voices and different, and even conflicting, visions to the table. One of those was Chris Beach, who lives in Wilton and taught at Unity College for many years. Beach said simple actions helped turn things around.

“Ben Godsoe is our High Peaks AmeriCorps volunteer, and he loves this part of Maine, so he got all of these diverse groups together last summer to do some volunteer work on the AT,” he said. “After everyone got to know each other, they all decided they could figure something out and work together.”

Local ATV clubs brought bridging material up to the Appalachian Trail, and High Peaks Alliance volunteers helped the Maine Appalachian Trail Club crew install the bridging along the AT near Eddy Pond.

Another supporter for ATV access around Eddy Pond west of Saddleback was David Field, a member of the Maine Appalachian Trail Club since 1955. He grew up in Phillips and understood the value of public access and the hostility on all sides when that right was disputed.

“The NPS and state people all went out several times in that tangled mess of brush that had grown up around there, trying to find some other way to make an access for ATVs,” he said. “We couldn’t figure anything that would work. Finally, last summer, I called the High Peaks Alliance people, and we met in Augusta to talk about this.”

The representatives from these groups figured that a 100-foot corridor along that Old Hudson Road to the Madrid Township line could be managed by the state BPL if the National Park Service would be willing to transfer ownership. The state would then be able to grant access to the ATV riders.

Local legislators, including Reps. Jarrod Crockett and Tom Saviello, helped smooth the path through complex state requirements. Finally, on Dec. 30, Franklin County’s register of deeds recorded a transfer of ownership of that corridor on the Old Hudson Road near Eddy Pond in Sandy River Plantation from the federal government to the state. ATVs and snowmobilers would police themselves to maintain access to the newly mapped western Maine Moose Loop ATV trail.

Beach is happy with the results, because the High Peaks Alliance hopes for support from those riders and clubs for proposed Crocker Mountain and Orbeton Stream land conservation projects further east in the Mt. Abram area. This new West Saddleback Connector also will complement their planned trail systems, including the new Fly Rod Crosby Heritage Footpath from Strong to Rangeley.

Mike Ferguson is ecstatic, but he credits many people who worked for years to make the historic land transfer possible.

“I couldn’t believe this really was happening when I got the phone call. Pam Underhill from the NPS and the Maine Appalachian Trail people really saw what we were trying to do, and they helped us make it work,” he said. “I’m just the guy who wouldn’t give up.”

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