October 8, 2014

Finding a Hidden Gem in Maine’s Back Country

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Written by: Michael Lothrop
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Some of the greatest memories I have are not of planned events but of things that happened spontaneously, or as often was the case for me, accidentally. Such was the case one morning when I was running along a wooded trail in the town of Acton. I came out into a clearing that turned out to be much more than just a clearing. It was an airfield.

windsockWhat I had found was Old Acton Airfield (ME20). Old Acton is located on the New York sectional and listed as a private use daylight VFR field about 13 miles out of Sanford Seacoast Regional Airport. The lone turf runway (14/32) is 2400’ long and 60’ feet wide. The only navigational aid at the airport is an unlit windsock. There are no services available at the field. That is, unless you know someone.

Enter John Nadeau. After some investigation I was able to find out that Nadeau owns the field and I soon set up a time to meet with him. Our meeting turned into an invitation to a private seaplane fly-in on a nearby lake.

Nadeau bought the airstrip with a partner at an auction as a business investment. Nadeau’s interest was piqued by the possibility of owning his own airfield near his summer home in Acton, though Nadeau and his partner didn’t think they would win the auction. A fully operational gravel pit running parallel to the west side of the runway made the prospect a solid business opportunity, though Nadeau and his partner assumed that the gravel pit would drive the price up; nonetheless, they placed a modest bid and ended up winning.

In addition to the gravel business, Old Acton has another tenant. A communications company has a cell tower on a hill at the rear of the property. These two business interests required a reliable road and electrical service; these are added benefits for Old Acton Airfield. As this field sits about a half mile from the main road, these business requirements provide luxuries that a small field might not otherwise have. If you’ve ever had to run a pole in to your property from the main road, you will know how much of an expense this is.

hangarOld Acton is situated at about 700’ MSL and is in the middle of some of the most scenic rural area Maine has to offer. Nadeau has taken full advantage of this wonderful property. A metal hangar with a newly poured concrete apron houses his Cessna 172; behind and adjacent to the hangar sits an equipment storage area and camping spot, complete with running water. Currently, Nadeau’s 172 and one other aircraft based at the field are seasonal; while there are no immediate plans to have any others based there, arrangements are easily made through Nadeau for a stay at the field.

By virtue of the business, general aviation is a very small world. As we were meeting at what would be deemed as a “private” seaplane fly-in, news spread by word of mouth and, like any good party, friends invited friends.

Small airstrips dot rural areas, especially in Maine. In northern Maine, logging operations or other land interests have gravel, turf and paved strips in the middle of vast acreage. At one point in time it was easy to obtain permission to use these strips for recreational purposes. Unfortunately, the legal climate changed over time and field owners found themselves facing steep liabilities under certain laws and insurance companies cautioned against letting people freely use their land.

wideNadeau and the Recreational Aviation Foundation found common ground. The goal of the foundation is to keep public use and backcountry airstrips open for use. Nadeau compares it to hunters being able to use public and private lands with a simple liability waiver. Like the foundation, Nadeau figured that if it was easy enough for hunters, the same should be true for airstrip owners.

Nadeau and countless others have invested much time, effort and resources into having subtle changes made to enable his and other fields like his to remain open for use. Small daylight VFR airstrips allow the recreational flyer and enthusiasts a less congested area to enjoy flying. Also, there are no landing fees or noise abatement issues to contend with. These operations are also excellent for folks who want to operate light sport, ultralight and light general aviation aircraft, or stop and enjoy nature on a cross country journey. Think of it as driving across the country and camping instead of staying at various hotels.

Nadeau’s Old Acton Airfield is one of many across the national that are open for public use. Many other landowners have similar operations and would encourage you to stop in and say hello while enjoying all that the general aviation community has to offer.

Michael Lothrop is a lifelong aviation enthusiast and writer from Maine. Mike grew up around the airport and has a professional background in public safety and business. Follow him on Twitter.

About the Author

Michael Lothrop
Michael Lothrop is a lifelong aviation enthusiast and writer originally from Maine. Mike grew up around aviation and is currently the director of operations and safety for an aviation related company.



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