WAITE, Maine — With fewer than 70 residents, this remote Washington County town has far more trees than people.
But there may also be chunks of a meteor that lit up the sky during the day last weekend before breaking apart with a boom and falling to Earth near the Canadian border. When searchers show up trying to find pieces of them in the woods in hopes of reaping a $25,000 bounty, it’s hard not to notice them in such a small town.
“I’ve had five phone calls since noon,” Waite General Store co-owner Joe Ruff said Wednesday.
People also stopped to ask about it at the small store, which is the only retail business in Waite, and the only one for at least 10 miles either way on Route 1, Ruff said.
“That amount of money goes a long way, here in particular,” Ruff said.
The handful of residents who live on Bingo Road, which is the city’s only public thoroughfare other than Route 1, told him that people drove past their homes and stopped on closed private dirt roads that wind their way through path in the forest, he said. Some brought metal detectors and some locals said they saw military-looking vehicles rumble, according to the store owner.
Donna Renaud, who lives on Bingo Road, said on Thursday that some of her neighbors told her they had seen unknown vehicles parked on the side of Bingo Road, where muddy back roads lead into the woods.
“They must have come in from there,” she said of whoever parked the vehicle.
Route 1, which runs along the western edge of town, is about a dozen miles west of the St. Croix River, which separates Maine from Canada. Aside from a few homes on Bingo Road, the vast majority of land east of Highway 1 to the border, including the neighboring townships of Dyer and Fowler, is heavily forested. The city has a population of 66, according to the 2020 U.S. Census.
Information about the meteor posted online by NASA indicates that pieces of the meteor, or meteorites, most likely fell east of Waite or Dyer or Fowler.
Roberto Vargas of Hartford, Conn., told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. that he was in the area looking for pieces of the meteor on Monday. According to NASA, the potential landing ground for the meteorites also includes a portion of New Brunswick near the town of Canoose.
Vargas, a full-time meteor hunter, plans to return to the area this weekend, CBC reported. If he’s lucky enough to find pieces of the meteor, he’ll likely save some for his personal collection and reserve some for the Maine Mineral and Gem Museum in Bethel, which has offered up to $25,000 for any piece weighing just a bit more. of two. pound sterling. It’s about the size of a softball.
“There’s nothing like that feeling of being the first person to touch a 4.6 billion year old rock that was in space, you know, a week ago,” Vargas told CBC.
But the search will probably not be easy.
Ruff said Waite was 40 square miles and estimated 90% of it was owned by Wagner Forest Management. Much of it is “wet,” he said, especially in April, when the spring thaw saturates the ground with melting snow. Many private logging roads through the forest are closed to vehicles at this time of year because the ground is so soft, he said.
“It’s easy to get lost,” Ruff said. “The GPS is not going to help you. If you go out, be safe.
Officials at Wagner, a New Hampshire-based company that manages 2 million acres of forest in northeastern and eastern Canada, did not return voicemail messages left at their offices Thursday.
The Bethel Museum said anyone looking for meteorites should get permission from the landowner before going outside to look on private property.
Renaud, who is also a longtime member of the local Tomah Country Trail Riders ATV club, said the club’s trails, which are on either side of Highway 1, run east to the river. Sainte-Croix and as far as Vanceboro. , nearly 20 miles northeast.
The club’s trail system is currently closed, as it is every spring when the snow thaws and the ground becomes soft, and it will not open until May 15, she said. In the meantime people can venture along the trails on foot, but for now it would be a long mud walk to cover the 10 or so miles from Bingo Road to the border.
“It’s far out there,” Renaud said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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