Campground is 1st step in new future for Caribou riverfront development

10 months ago

CARIBOU, Maine — Few people would have guessed three years ago that the three-acre property at 154 Limestone St. in Caribou would be a scenic campground. 

Back then, old tires, car seats and other scrap metal jutted out of the ground, all remnants of an auto salvage yard that closed years ago.

But now seasonal campers have reserved all but two of the nine available recreational vehicle spots near the shores of the Aroostook River. Walking paths bring people straight to the shoreline, where they can launch kayaks and canoes, fish or just enjoy the view. 

The new Kacie’s Campground sits along the shores of the Aroostook River in Caribou. The campground is the first major development along Caribou’s riverfront in years. (Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican)

The campground, the vision of a local couple, has inched Caribou a bit closer to a revitalized riverfront.

“We’re hoping to be an example of how to take an area full of debris and turn it into something nice,” said Troy Haney, who has opened the campground with his wife Julie. “That river is a gem. We have to use it somehow.”

It’s been a long time coming for Caribou’s riverfront redevelopment efforts. The area was once a prime spot for agricultural processing plants and a railroad that shipped out local potatoes. That industry slowly faded out, leaving the five-mile stretch of riverfront dotted with abandoned buildings and a handful of nearby businesses and houses. 

The city formed a Riverfront Renaissance Committee two years ago. Though still in the planning stages of forming goals and priorities, the committee sees the new campground as a step in the right direction.

“What Troy’s doing is very much in line with what we want to see,” said Mark Draper, chair of the Riverfront Revitalization Committee. “That part of Limestone Street [near the railroad] hasn’t always attracted people to the area, but we want to change that.”

Troy and Julie Haney stand on the shore of the Aroostook River in Caribou. The Haneys have opened Kacie’s Campground on Limestone Street in honor of their daughter, Kacie Haney, who died in 2020. (Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican)

The Haneys opened Kacie’s Campground last week. The camp is named after Julie’s daughter and Troy’s stepdaughter, Kacie, who died in a car crash three years ago. She was 17.

Troy Haney began working on the campground two years ago. Around that time, the city amended its campground ordinance to allow a minimum of three acres of land in the residential mixed housing zone and no less than seven in the rural mixed housing zone.  Kacie’s Campground is located in the residential mixed housing zone.

City councilors approved the zoning amendments hoping they would encourage more campground and recreational development in areas that have traditionally allowed for residential homes and farms.

The efforts are starting to bring people to the river, especially those now camping for the summer, Troy Haney said. Most campers are people who have retired, sold their homes in Aroostook County and are winter “snowbirds” in states like Florida, Arizona and North Carolina.

On a warm early August afternoon, Maurice and Laurie Pelletier were setting up their campsite, having recently moved their camper to the Haneys’ property.

The Pelletiers sold their home in Caribou three years ago and have since been living in Florida for the winter and at campsites in Aroostook in the summer. When they heard Troy Haney was finishing work on the new site in late July, they knew they wanted to be closer to a riverfront they always thought was beautiful.

It would be great if Caribou’s areas near the Aroostook River could become larger waterfront destinations, much like those in Portland or Bar Harbor,  Laurie Pelletier said.

That would give more people reasons to check out the river itself, she said.

“Maybe more activities and restaurants like you’d see in those areas,” Laurie Pelletier said. “This is the perfect place for fishing and kayaking.”

Those activities align with what Draper and the Riverfront Renaissance Committee want to see on the riverfront. Other ideas have included specialty boutique shops, kayak and canoe stores, a brew pub and more walking paths and public parks. The eventual clean-up of Caribou’s former power plant could pave the way for the latter project.

To get there, Draper’s committee gave the Caribou Planning Board feedback on potential rezoning for the riverfront area, which could become its own district or overlap with existing districts.

The rezoning is still a work in progress and will need approval from the city council, Draper said.

“Basically, [the zoning districts] will say what businesses are allowed and not allowed in certain areas,” Draper said. “Some areas will be more commercial, others more residential or recreational.”

In the meantime, the committee is seeking donations and grants to cover hiring a consultant who will help craft a riverfront master plan. The goal: revitalize the riverfront as a destination for tourists and locals.

When Haney looks out across the Aroostook River and sees eagles flying to their nest high in the trees or Canada geese overhead, he knows the potential the rest of Caribou’s riverfront has to lure folks in.

“It’s the view. It’s the privacy. It’s just a peaceful place,” Haney said.