April 05, 2020

Work on fairgrounds under way> Officials hopeful part of Whitneyville site will be ready for August rodeo

WHITNEYVILLE — Work has already begun on a 55-acre fairground and multipurpose recreational facility for Washington County, and part of the $1 million project should be ready for use this summer, according to local volunteers.

Rev. Raymond Melville, the business manager for the Down East Fairgrounds Association, said the group is hoping the new fairgrounds will be ready to host Washington County’s fourth annual rodeo on Aug. 1 and 2.

Other plans for the 55-acre parcel on Route 1 in Whitneyville include a 120-by-80-foot indoor arena, an 80-by-60-foot entertainent barn with stage, a 1 1/2-mile track for use by local schools and a primitive camping area for Washington County Scout troops.

The fairgrounds committee also hopes to construct a horse stable and livestock barns, and, eventually, a racetrack with covered bleachers, Rev. Melville said.

The work will be done in three phases as funds allow, according to Eleanor Sargent, the president of the Down East Fairgrounds Association. The 55-acre parcel has already been cleared and the association hopes to obtain the necessary permits and construct the rodeo arena by August.

The Maine National Guard’s Belfast engineering unit is coming to Whitneyville in June to rough out a parking area for 500 cars, according to Melville. Sargent said the association already owns bleachers that seat 2,000 and those will be moved to the site.

The fairgrounds association was formed after the Machias Rotary and the Machias Bay Area Chamber of Commerce sponsored two successful rodeos in 1995 and 1996. Those events and a 1995 monster truck show brought thousands of dollars into the area’s economy, Melville said.

Then, James and Hope Prout offered a 99-year lease on 55 acres of grown-over blueberry land they owned on Route 1 in Whitneyville.

Sargent said the association organized in response to the Prouts’ offer. The Down East Fairgrounds Association is a nonprofit organization dedicated to bringing a wide range of activities to the Washington County area, she said.

Plans for the 55-acre site were designed by University of Maine at Machias recreation management students under the direction of Assistant Professor William Eckhart, she said.

Rev. Melville said the university is very supportive of the project and will directly benefit from the track. Neither the university nor any of the Machias area schools has a track, he said. Plans for the site also include a baseball field, soccer-football field and flooding the indoor arena for ice hockey, he said.

The track and construction of the arena, events barn, stable and livestock buildings are Phase 2 of the project and the association is launching a campaign to raise money for the project. The group also is working on grant applications.

To date, the fairgrounds association has raised $10,000 and has accomplished much of its progress through volunteer effort. Melville said Robert Costa of Costa Environmental Services has been hired to prepare the application for a site permit from Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

Melville estimates the entire cost of the project at between $750,000 and $1 million. Depending on how quickly that money can be raised, the facility should be completed within the next three to five years, he said.

For more information, contact the Down East Fairgrounds Association at 255-8660.

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