Multipurpose Recreational Complex Coming to the County

Historians Learn about Downeast Fairgrounds

By Terry Hussey

What has the potential to meet the social, cultural, economic, athletic, entertainment, and recreational needs of Washington County? According to Sam Sprague and Ivan Hanscom, the answer is the new Downeast Fairgrounds.

Speaking to members of the Milbridge Historical Society on November 14, Hanscom and Sprague told them of the extensive plans of the Downeast Fairgrounds Association for a multipurpose recreational complex in Whitneyville.

Drawings for the project show a traditional fairground with horse barns and a grandstand, but also a NASCAR track, campgrounds, wildlife viewing areas, bicycle and snowmobile trails, basketball, baseball, and soccer playing areas, and even tennis courts.

Sprague told the group that the project began with the generous gift of 70 acres of land on route 1 by James and Hope Prout. "Without the Prouts, we wouldn’t be where we are today," he said.

DEP problem solved

"I’m sure you’ve all heard that we ran into a serious problem with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) over a 1.39 acre peat bog in one corner of the land," said Sprague. The group worked out an agreement with DEP just a few weeks ago, by which they will be permitted to move the proposed NASCAR track from the peat bog area, further south on the property, so that the bog remains undisturbed.

"Everything you see on the property today has been done by volunteer labor," said Sprague. He praised Hanscom Construction, Guptill’s Logging, and Blue Bird Ranch for the many, many man-hours they have put into landscaping the project. "Those trucks were running all day and until dark last summer, grading and hauling sand for leveling he said. He also praised the workers at the Downeast Correctional Facility who helped with installation and leveling of the bleacher seats.

"Last August we held our first major event at the new facility. We had the Lipizaner Stallions there and attracted 1,000 visitors for each of three shows. Everything went just great, and we’ll probably do it again in a year or two," said Sprague.

The group has applied for tax-exempt status, and is just waiting for the arrival of their 501 (C3) letter from the Internal Revenue Service. "When we get that letter, we’ll be in business," said Sprague. The status allows donations to be tax-deductible for donors. "At that point we can begin our capital campaign."

Development to Come in Three Phases

Over a five-year period, the Committee hopes to raise $4.5 million for developing the fairgrounds facility. According to their five-year action plan, the first items to be developed will be the fairgrounds area, with a horse barn and an events barn. Currently they have outdoor bleacher seating for 1,000, the largest seating area east of Bangor.

The second phase of the project includes completion of the 3/8 mile NASCAR track, an indoor arena, livestock barns, and a grandstand enclosure. The final phase will include facilities for baseball, soccer, basketball, and a _ mile cinder running track. There will also be a 15-acre camping area and a parking area for RV’s with hookups.

They hope to work with local Boy Scout troops to develop the primitive camping area.

"We’re open to new ideas from anyone in the region," said Sprague. "This is a facility for the people, and we want to know what they’d like to see there."

"Right now we can run concerts, using a big tent which we purchased with the help of Pat Davis at Tri Town Marine," said Hanscom. "But we found it’s hard to get people to travel Downeast for concerts. They’ll go to Bangor or South, but not Downeast."

When asked about horse racing, Hanscom said they have been advised not to put much money into that, as there just isn’t enough interest in this part of the state. "We would like to get our rodeo back though."

Sprague explained that the rodeo had been held at a rented facility for five years. "This was the transition year. We were moving from the old place to the new one this summer, and we weren’t sure of our timing. The rodeo has to be booked far in advance and paid in advance, and we just couldn’t be sure enough this year," he said. "We’re eager to get that back next year if we can. There’s tremendous support in the community for the rodeo," he said.

Many in the group remembering attending the Washington County Fair in Machias until the 1960’s, when it was discontinued. Running annual county fairs is part of the board’s dream for the future.

Variety of Events Expected for Facility

Some of the other events and activities the Fairgrounds hopes to attract includes craft fairs, mud running competition, automobile shows, demolition derbies, 4-wheel drive pulls, 4-H activities, Horseback riding competition, Square and line dancing, wrestling, carnivals, snowmobiling, cross-country skiing, hiking, biking, and bird watching. They hope they can work with the University to use the athletic fields.

The board feels the fairgrounds facilities will have a substantial economic impact on the area, bringing many new spenders into the area. It will also create additional jobs.

The Downeast Fairgrounds Association is a private not-for-profit corporation, governed by a board of directors

"The board meets on the first Monday of the month at 6 p.m. at the R.H. Foster building in Machias, and anyone is welcome to attend. We’d love to hear from you," he said. "We want to know what the people would like to see out there."