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image of the Eastern Trail web page mastheadEastern Trail

 

Eastern Trailís success starts in Scarborough

Ken Tatro, Current 22 December 2005
Photos by Rich Obrey, Current

John Andrews sharing his vision of the Eastern TrailNearly eight years after the Eastern Trial Alliance was formed in an Old Orchard Beach living room, there has been some success in creating an off road trail to run from Kittery to South Portland, but a lot of work still remains.

Thus far Scarborough has been the most active town on the Eastern Trial and is home to the only completed off road portions.

The trail in Scarborough now spans 2.8 miles through the marsh beginning at Pine Point Road and ending at Black Point Road. Plans are now in the works for the construction of a 2.6-mile stretch from Pine Point Road to Old Cascade Road in Old Orchard Beach. A one-mile connection from the Nonesuch River to the South Portland Greenway at the Wainwright Athletic Complex also is being studied.

Once completed, the segments would allow a person to walk or bike from Old Orchard Beach to Bug Light in South Portland without using any major roadways and touching very little pavement.

One reason why the Eastern Trial has been so successful in Scarborough is because the town and its residents have identified is as an important project.

"Weíre looking for other ways of transportation, weíre looking for other way of recreating," said Community Services Director Bruce Gullifer, who is a member of the Eastern Trial Management Board of Directors.

The town has taken a number of different actions to assist with trail construction. Steve Workman, a consultant who essentially serves as the allianceís executive director, said Scarborough has been proactive in getting the trails built and contributed money as well as in kind services to the project.

The townís planning department also has been helpful in working with developers building near the Eastern Trial to include connections in their plans.

This effort came to fruition during contract zone negotiations with Hillcrest Retirement Community owner Theresa Desfosses to allow an expansion of the development. As part of the contract zone, Desfosses agreed to allow an easement for the trail to loop around the property.

That portion of the trail measures a little less than a mile and the town funded about $275,000 to construct it. Work is nearly completed and the section is expected to open next spring.

"If you lose those opportunities then it could be quite a challenge to make a connection and thatís an example," said Bob Bowker, a member of the Eastern Trial Allianceís Board of Directors.

A second example is seen in Scarborough developer Kerry Andersonís plans for a subdivision in Oak Hill that contains a connection with the Eastern Trail. When presented to the Planning Board, the plan received positive comments from members.

The marsh was another reason why Scarborough was the first town to have a completed portion of the Eastern Trail. While it is one of the most difficult crossing to make on the trial, it serves as destination point and was identified as an area that could build further interest in the Eastern Trial project.

"If we could do something there people would understand the concept behind the Eastern trail," Workman said explaining the thought behind starting on the marsh section.

Today that section is extremely popular. While numbers cannot be developed as to how many people use the stretch, it is common to see walkers there throughout the day, even in the cold of winter.

"Scarborough is fortunate enough to have one of the pieces right off the bat that weíll enjoy for years to come," Gullifer said.

The other sections of Scarborough trail are now under review, but promise to be just as difficult as the marsh crossing.

The Desfosses project ends at the Nonesuch River. Plans are now being developed to bring the trail up to the Wainwright Athletic Complex in South Portland and construction is scheduled to start in 2009.

The 1-mile stretch must cross the Nonesuch River as well as a set of live railroad tracks. In addition, the area is heavily traveled and includes industrial zones that are not as visually appealing as trails organizers would like.

"I donít think anybody has supported using the paved shoulder on Pleasant Hill Road, thereís just too much truck traffic," said John Andrews, president of president of the Eastern Trial Alliance. "Itís really an awful area to ask a family to bike."

Also in the final planning stages is an approximately 2.5-mile stretch from Pine Point Road to Cascade Road in Old Orchard Beach. The project currently has $660,000 in state funding. But Workman said the amount might not be enough to cover the entire project, leaving Eastern Trail to either raise more money or defer some of the construction until a later date. Work will begin this spring.

Changing the route of the trail in that portion is not likely to save money because it still involves a crossing of Millbrook and handling erosion issues at the bridgehead.

"They are so significant even the most cost efficient is going to be costly," he said.

Another project under consideration is a five-mile crossing from Cascade Road to South Street in Biddeford. The Eastern Trail Management District will begin selecting an engineer to plan the route next month.

Dealing with easements, utility companies, private landowners, and difficult crossings are all part of the equation when the Eastern Trial designs and constructions a portion of the trail, Workman said.

"Every single project that comes before us is loaded with these issues," he said. "Sometimes people forget it takes time."

However, the movement now occurring and the potential for major connections to occur between South Portland and Biddeford has given Bowker confidence that the trail will gain traction.

"Itís conceivable that within 10 years there will be a major chunk of the Eastern Trial completed," he said. "Itís starting to build on itself now and people are seeing it could be a reality."

The future for the remainder of the trail remains a question. While the Eastern Trail continues to work on proposals, none of the other southern communities have completed any section of off-road trail. Part of the reason is that the Eastern railroad bed from South Berwick to Kittery as been turned into Rt. 236. Other towns have had difficulty because there is no easy off-road route.

"For some municipalities in the south, I donít think that opportunity has come around," Workman said.

Making that job easier would be an easement that the Eastern Trial has been seeking from Granite Sate Gas transmissions, which runs a line from Exeter to Westbrook. Workman estimates that from South Berwick north the utility owns 33 miles that could be used for a trail.

Thus far the discussions have not gone too far. However, if the company does agree to allow the easement, Andrews said the Eastern Trail would be 95 percent planned from Saco south and all the district would need is construction money.

Ultimately the only way to complete the Eastern Trial is through the development of regional collaboration, trail leaders say. But this will not be easy and Workman estimates it may take up to 20 years for the Eastern Trial to be completed.

Bowker is confident that as construction of the trail moves further south and people begin to see it as a reality, it will become more popular.

"As people see it coming closer and closer to their community there will be more support," Bowker said.

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