Selectmen’s Monday Meeting
Bethel’s Town Hall has a new wood pellet boiler heating system from Maine Energy Systems. It is expected to save 40 percent in annual heating costs. MDOT’s interim reply to the town manager about results of a Mayville speed limit study gave a list of reasons while it will be some time yet before completion. Ian Blair who according to the Bethel taxpayer list lives at 239 Paradise Road applied for the vacant seat on the Bethel Planning Board.
Comprehensive Plan: Selectmen accepted the Town Manager’s proposal to begin updating the town’s Comprehensive Plan. Manager Doar recommended a two year period for the work to be completed, noting that there have been changes in State government that will affect its final approval. The town committee will, if approved by the next annual town meeting, consist of nine members, two selectmen/town manager, two planning board members, two business people, two residents and one school board member, plus a hired consultant.
The most recent Comprehensive Plan is dated 1998 but it has an excellent framework for analysis and evaluation of the town’s overall condition. Two recent developments – acquisition of the Bingham – Barker Mountain land and results of the currently meeting sign ordinance reform committee’s recommendations about town involvement in Wayfinding will probably be included in the plan update.
Winterfest 2013: Robin Zinchuk, Amanda Moran and Jim (Mr. Zipline) Sysko attended the meeting to discuss feasibility of Town of Bethel sponsorship of this winter’s event. Reason is cost of insurance to cover primarily sledding liability at the “snow mountain/volcano” proposed again for this year’s Fest. Mr. Sysko outlined his ideas on how to enlarge a snow volcano with top to bottom sledding, a room in the mountain and of course a Zipline. The Board authorized the Town Manager to work out details with the Chamber for review by the Selectmen. Robin Zinchuk stressed that the event is for children – to get them outdoors with something that is really fun and challenging.
Town Clerk Christen Mason reported that 100 absentee ballots had been signed out to date.
Mahoosuc Land Trust – Black Mountain Trail
Currently Mahoosuc Land Trust is engaged in new trail making from its trail head off the East Andover Road at the base of Rumford Whitecap to Black Mountain’s peak where the Black Mountain Ski Area’s upper lift tower is located. Straight line distance for the new trail is roughly 2.7 miles. The new trail will lead from the MLT’s existing Rumford Whitecap Mountain Trail.
The trail to Rumford Whitecap was completed primarily following an age old trail used by the public to reach blueberry grounds growing around the open flat ledges at the mountain top. Mike Cooper, working as Caribou Recreation Development LLC, put the existing Whitecap trail into good condition for continued public use, bypassing a badly eroded section with switchbacks. The actual bald mountain top property is jointly owned by the Kersey family and MLT.
Cooper has already flagged the Black Mountain trail – which departs from a relatively low elevation point on the Whitecap Trail and heads east to Black Mountain. Following his trail marking, the Peak A Week Club in Rumford helped initial trail clearing. Since then further trail improvement work has been done by volunteers from the Maine Chapter of the Appalachian Club, the Outward Bound School in Newry and Americore volunteers from the Maine Conservation Corps.
Trail head for both trails is located on the East Andover Road only a few hundred yards from its junction with the Rumford Center to Andover road. From Bethel village it is about a 15 mile drive. There is parking for about 10 cars and an information kiosk. To get on the trail, one only has to cross the road.
Just the past month the trail has seen hikers from a variety of places including the Andover General Store, Andover Elementary School, Bangor, Lisbon, Auburn, The Prime Time Club (from all over), Wrentham, Mass., Rumford, Wilton, Scarboro plus cars at the trail head on Saturday were from Maine and Massachusetts.
Some background as to how these trail projects came to the fore - a quick look at the ownership of long time paper company land ownership tells the story.
During the Mead/Westvaco era of Rumford’s paper operations and before, the mountain property belonged to the paper company. This company sold all of its timberland in Maine and New Hampshire to Bayroot LLC, a Timber Investment Management Organization. However, Bayroot started selling some of its land to developers and timber liquidators. During Paper Company ownership the public was given free access to the mountain. But with possibility of this mountain land being developed for house lots, a threat to continued public access was seen.
Leon Akers of Andover and Robert Isles of Bethel brought this possible public access threat to the attention of the Mahoosuc Land Trust. Marcel Polak worked with the Land Trust to write a grant application to the Land for Maine’s Future (LMF) for public funding to acquire the section of Whitecap land needed to secure public access to the mountain top. A successful capital campaign by Mahoosuc Land Trust plus the LMF grant allowed the Land Trust to purchase the trail zone property in 2007. MLT’s Website says that 500 donors contributed to the capital fund raising effort.
The Man from Maine – to the Rescue
Reading tends to reveal heroes. John Stevens who grew up in West Gardiner and completed the two year Maine State Normal School at Farmington in 1873 is the man generally credited with rescuing Panama Canal construction from drowning. His parents farmed and operated a tannery, similar to Fred Atherton in Sunday River. But after Stevens completed school in Farmington, as usual in Maine, the job picture was bleak and Stevens went west. One initial western experience was in the Minneapolis city engineer’s office.
In 1895, James J. Hill, railroad titan, creator of the Great Northern rail system, promoted John Stevens to become his chief engineer. Stevens had started as a surveyor, becoming a self-taught, practical engineer – viewed as expert in all phases of railroading: reconnaissance, locating, organizing and construction.
In 1905, when President Teddy Roosevelt desperately needed someone to take command of building the Panama Canal, in which Roosevelt had a very high personal and political stake, he hired John Stevens as chief engineer on the recommendation of Hill.
During the next year Stevens planned, ordered, supervised an incredible span of work – the Panama Railroad was overhauled and double tracked, a new telegraph system installed, Dr. Gorgas was given four months to rid the canal zone of yellow fever and malaria (previous bosses had denied Gorgas’s requests for screening), worker housing, family housing, hospitals, churches, hotels, warehouses, maintenance buildings, replaced the railroad force completely, new water and sewer systems installed, new bakeries, new cold storage plants – fresh eggs, lettuce, meats, ice – size of labor force tripled, over hundred new locomotives ordered. The list goes on and on. Basically he ordered, managed, oversaw the building of infrastructure needed to complete the canal.
Stevens told the President that a sea level canal would not work, period; despite the fact that the Senate had just voted again for a sea level canal. Stevens also showed his Maine disposition for independence and grumpiness. He was probably very much overworked, stressed out and in need of a rest – he was 54 years old. In February 1907, the President received a long letter from Stevens – his resignation.
Ten years later Stevens chaired a board of railroad men sent to Russia to reorganize and manage the national railroad system, including work on the Trans Siberian Railway. He lived to be 90; he died in 1943 at Southern Pines, North Carolina.
Sources include “The Path between the Seas” by David McCullough and John Frank Stevens from Wikipedia.