By William Hall | Published in MaineBiz August 24, 2022
The Eastern Trail — a greenway that ultimately will run 65 miles between Kittery and South Portland — is steadily bolstering Maine’s outdoor recreation economy. And now a national conservation group has honored the trail for the path it’s blazed.
The ET was inducted this month into the Rail-Trail Hall of Fame, a group of only 35 other former railroad corridors across the U.S. honored for the economic, social and quality-of-life value they now bring as recreational space.
The Hall of Famers are selected by an annual, nationwide public vote through the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a nonprofit trails advocate with over 1 million members. This year’s vote, from July 22 to Aug. 2, was a face-off among the Eastern Trail, Alaska’s Tony Knowles Coastal Trail and Grant’s Trail in Missouri.
“Maine’s Eastern Trail is an example of the type of walking and biking infrastructure that can serve as a tourism destination and a mobility hub for the region,” said Ryan Chao, the conservancy’s president, in a news release.
“This trail is an inspiration. It demonstrates how a long-distance trail can serve as the foundation for a regional trail network that connects people and places, providing safe and accessible transportation options, economic opportunity and a boon for everyone’s quality of life.”
Previous Hall of Fame inductees include the High Line in New York City, one of Manhattan’s most popular recreational spaces and tourist attractions, which has been credited with spurring a wave of new development in the West Chelsea neighborhood over the past decade.
The Eastern Trail is New England’s fourth trail to make the Hall of Fame, after honorees in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont.
A consultant’s study last November for the Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission showed the Eastern Trail generated $44.6 million in annual economic benefits and supported 364 jobs across the state. It’s also estimated that roughly 250,000 people, from Maine and beyond, use the trail annually, and each user spends an average of $118 per day.
More than 24 miles of the Eastern Trail are already complete, with another 16 under construction. Once those portions are complete, the trail is expected to generate an additional $5.9 million in annual earnings and sales.
The Eastern Trail is being built along the corridor of the former Eastern Railroad, the first rail line to connect Boston to Portland, operating from 1842 until 1945. A group of volunteers has been advocating for the trail’s development since 1998.