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News


NEW BRIDGE LINKS MAINE AND FLORIDA


May 21, 2004
BY SCOTT ANDREWS,
Times Record Outdoors Writer

Typical trail marker along the Eastern TrailSCARBOROUGH -- As 13 shovels dug into the gravel this Wednesday, Maine moved a giant step closer to Florida. Especially for muscle-powered travelers.

On May 19, representatives of the Eastern Trail Alliance and the East Coast Greenway gathered to celebrate the ceremonial groundbreaking for a 2.5-mile multi-use bikeway/footpath through the Scarborough Marsh, one of the state’s largest and most significant nature preserves.
 
This project, a key link in the Eastern Trail, has been seven years in the planning, authorization and fund-raising stages. The Scarborough Marsh crossing will be completed this autumn in time for fall foliage outings, assured Eastern Trail Alliance president John Andrews.

Although less than three miles long, the Scarborough Marsh segment is an important link in an ambitious plan to build an off-road bikeway/footpath between Kittery and South Portland. In turn, the Eastern Trail is a key link in a 2,600 route between Calais, Maine, and Key West, Florida.

One key piece is already is place in Brunswick. At Wednesday’s ceremony, the popular multi-use trail along the Androscoggin River between Water Street and Cooks Corner was repeatedly cited as a standard of excellence for the Eastern Trail and the East Coast Greenway.

“The Eastern Trail is going to be a larger version of the Androscoggin River Trail,” said Maggie Warren of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine.

‘THAT’S HISTORIC!’

When completed, the Eastern Trail will be one of Maine’s larger regional multi-use routes, running 62 miles between Kittery and South Portland. For much of its distance it follows the right-of-way of the former Eastern Railroad, which was abandoned in 1944.

The route traverses 12 towns and cities in two counties in southern Maine. After entering Maine in Kittery, the Eastern Trail veers north through Eliot into South Berwick, then trends northeast through North Berwick, Wells, Kennebunk, Arundel, Biddeford, Saco, Old Orchard Beach and Scarborough. It ends at Bug Light Park in South Portland.

The segment being built this summer is one of the most challenging and expensive because it crosses the ecologically sensitive Scarborough Marsh and requires a 12-foot wide bridge over the Dunstan River.

A beaming ETA President John Andrews, ready to start construction CPM Constructors of Freeport is the prime contractor. Most of the $1,023,000 cost comes via federal transportation enhancement programs, administered by the Maine Department of Transportation.

Eastern Trail Alliance raised $120,000 from private sources to provide the required local match needed to leverage the federal money. Maine Turnpike Authority, Saco & Biddeford Savings Institution, Davis Conservation Foundation, Bikes-Belong Coalition, Verizon and many individuals donated those matching funds.

Although most of this project remains in the planning stages, another key piece-- and one of the most costly -- was assured on Wednesday, when Maine Turnpike Authority executive director Paul Violette promised that a critical bridge over Interstate 95 in Kennebunk would be built.

Andrews, who has been a driving force behind the Eastern Trail from its conception, was euphoric. “When we’re done, this trail is going all the way to Kittery,” he exclaimed. “And the East Coast Greenway will allow people to follow this trail to Key West, Florida. And that’s historic!”

LARGER VISION

The Eastern Trail is part of a larger vision of a 2,600-mile multi-use route between Maine and Florida, a sort of urban version of the Appalachian Trail or a muscle-powered alternative to Interstate 95.

Tony Barrett of Harpswell, the Maine trustee for the East Coast Greenway Alliance, noted that this summer’s construction over the Scarborough Marsh is a major milestone and measuring-stick.

“The Eastern Trail is going to be the showcase for the East Coast Greenway in Maine because it will be the longest section of off-road route,” said Barrett. “And it will set the example for other sections.”

East Coast Greenway proponents like to draw two comparisons. First is to the famous Appalachian Trail, which runs from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. This 2,150-mile footpath was first conceived in the 1920s as a long-distance skyline route connecting the principal peaks of the Appalachian Mountain chain.

In its initial form the Maine-to-Georgia trail was completed in the 1930s, but substantial sections have been relocated over the past three decades. A Mainer, Myron Avery of Machias, was a principal driving force behind the AT in its first years.

The East Coast Greenway is envisioned as an urban/suburban sister route -- a continuous long-distance connector route that runs through many of the same states along the Atlantic seaboard.

The second parallel is to the Interstate Highway System, a comparison that emphasizes the vision of linking -- and sometimes running right through -- major metropolitan centers, including New York City. It will serve cyclists, hikers, in-line skaters, equestrians, people in wheelchairs and other non-motorized users. 

While seeking the most direct feasible route between cities, proponents also envision a route that offers an interesting and varied experience.  The Interstate highway comparison also underscores the likelihood that most long-distance users will ride on rubber tires -- bicycles in this case.

The East Coast Greenway will connect a host of other local and regional trails being developed along the Atlantic seaboard. Much of the proposed corridor is already in place in the form of pre-existing park paths, waterfront esplanades, abandoned railroads and canal towpaths. New trail construction is principally seen as a means of linking the many localized sub-sections into a continuous and contiguous route.

Barrett noted that crucial local and regional efforts are currently underway in Down East Maine as well as Lisbon, Lewiston, Topsham, Brunswick and Bath.

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Scott Andrews, the Outdoors Writer for the Times Record, has reported on trails development in New England for the past 16 years.