Latest News

Our archive of more in-depth news articles and reports (running back to the 1990’s) can be found here. You can also search for past articles using the search function in the left hand side column

Eastern Trail bridge over the Maine Turnpike.
Latest News

Eastern Trail brings national kudos, and growing dollars, to southern Maine

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.

You can read the entire article online here.

Rail-Trail Hall of Fame 2022 Inductee
Latest News

Eastern Trail Named to National Rail-Trail Hall of Fame!

Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), the nation’s largest trails organization, has announced that Maine’s Eastern Trail would join its Rail-Trail Hall of Fame—an exemplary group of rail-trails nationwide celebrated for the social, economic and quality-of-life value they bring to the communities they serve.

“The Eastern Trail is an increasingly special place in southern coastal Maine,” said Eric Wright, Eastern Trail Alliance’s president. “Since the trail’s inception over 20 years ago, it captures Maine’s maritime history, the state’s largest salt marsh conservation area and the miles of tree-lined suburban and rural landscapes along the former Eastern Railroad connecting Boston to Maine. And we are not done yet, as we work on significant trail-building initiatives to extend the Eastern Trail to the New Hampshire border.”

The developing 65-mile trail, which welcomes 250,000 people each year along Southern Maine’s coastline and dense forests, is critical to two developing interstate trail networks: the 3,000-mile East Coast Greenway that will connect trails from Maine to Florida and the New England Rail-Trail Network, which aims to unite the region’s six states—Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut—by multiuse trail. Running from South Portland to the New Hampshire border, more than 24 miles of the Eastern Trail are complete. Sixteen additional miles are under construction, 11 miles of which are being advanced with the support of $700,000 in federal funding received in May 2022.

“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, RTC’s president. “The completion of this trail is being accelerated with the support of federal, state, local and private funding, positioning it as more than a destination. 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.”

A recent economic impact study of the Eastern Trail showed that the trail delivers $44.6 million in annual economic benefits and supports 364 jobs across the state. Once the 16 miles of trail under construction are completed, the trail is projected to bring an additional $5.9 million in earnings and sales.

“We are beyond excited for the Eastern Trail’s well-earned RTC Hall of Fame induction”, said Jean Sideris, executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine. “The Eastern Trail is the epitome of what an outstanding trail should look like—something that links communities together, is accessible for riders of all abilities, suitable for various types of bikes, and packed with picture-perfect scenery that highlights some of the best parts of our beautiful state. Congratulations to the Eastern Trail and our friends at the Eastern Trail Alliance!”

Scarborough March bridge
Latest News

Eastern Trail is Rail-Trail Conservancy’s Trail of the Month: March 2022

“In a lot of ways, the Eastern Trail is a model of what could happen in the state.” —Jeremy Cluchey, volunteer member of the Maine Trails Coalition

A couple times a week, Bob Hamblen takes to the Eastern Trail on his bike, riding through various sections of the route that traverses 28 miles of southern Maine’s spectacular coastline. While he sees it as “a win” wherever he ends up on the trail, the long-time Saco resident has his favorites.

Hamblen, a trustee on the Eastern Trail Alliance board, is especially fond of the South Portland portion, also known as the Greenbelt, that passes through neighborhoods and ends at Bug Light Park on Casco Bay, as well as the southern section from Biddeford to Kennebunk.

He isn’t the only one who can easily pinpoint favorite trail features. Eastern Trail Alliance Executive Director Jon Kachmar loves the stretch he calls “the gorge” near the town of Arundel. It is the area where the old Eastern Railroad blasted through rock more than century ago to make way for the train track. “It’s quiet, and it’s unique,” he said of the rocky ravine.

Allison Kenty, director of communications and public affairs for the Southern Maine Health Care Hospital in Biddeford, is partial to the wooded trail section that goes right by the hospital campus. In fact, she sometimes uses it to get out of her office and into the fresh air while she takes a conference call.

And for Jeremy Cluchey, a volunteer member of the Maine Trails Coalition, the best part of the Eastern Trail is the Scarborough Marsh, the 3,200-acre saltwater marsh where he has often taken part in the Maine Audubon’s annual Snowy Egret 5K run. “Every time I’ve done it, it’s been this glorious May day,” he said.

When it comes to a trail as varied as the Eastern Trail, it should come as no surprise that everyone seems to gravitate to different features. Kachmar says the diversity of the Eastern Trail is one of its strong suits—the thing that makes the trail such a treasure.

Along with Bug Light—the area’s famous lighthouse, dubbed so for its small size—Scarborough Marsh and the charming South Portland neighborhoods, the Eastern Trail also passes by areas of dense forest and one particularly lovely 7-mile stretch of sandy beachfront at Old Orchard Beach.

There is no question that the Eastern Trail is beloved in the communities it passes through, including South Portland, Scarborough, Saco, Old Orchard Beach, Biddeford, Arundel and Kennebunk.

“It has become a goal for multiple communities to see [the Eastern Trail] built within their borders,” Hamblen said. “It exists in seven towns now, with five to go. Towns that would ordinarily have little reason to communicate now have a common goal: to finish the Eastern Trail.”

The trail’s place in the community is a product of about three decades of work. The dream of the trail formed in the early 1990s, and the Eastern has been expanding gradually through the years.

The original route was built by the old Eastern Railroad, whose tracks traveled from Boston to Portland. The train started in the 1840s and ran through the 1940s when service was suspended. After sitting idle for 20 years or so, the rail corridor was tapped in the 1960s as a route for a natural gas line. It’s a use that continues today, and Kachmar said the Eastern Trail works with Granite State Gas, receiving significant in-kind benefits from the utility and the ability to use easements for the trail.

The Eastern Trail’s track record in the community serves as an example for other aspiring trail groups in Maine, according to Cluchey. “In a lot of ways, the Eastern Trail is a model of what could happen in the state,” he said. “They have done really important work. We leverage that.”

Tom Sexton, the northeast regional director for Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, sees the Eastern Trail as a pioneer for other trail efforts in the region. “For Maine and the New England states, it’s been kind of an anchor,” he said of the Eastern Trail. “We needed those first trails to be the pioneers. It’s a great ambassador.”

Much more story and pictures in this article can be read online here.

Blaze the Trail South Map April 2022
Latest News

Blazing the Eastern Trail South from Kennebunk – Article in Portland’s West End News

Posted in the West End News by Nancy Dorrans on June 6, 2022

By Nancy Dorrans & Bob Hamblen

On May 20th, a small group of Maine outdoor enthusiasts, cyclists, journalists, local and state officials, gathered at Kennebunk Elementary School to celebrate the Eastern Trail. The trail received $700,000 in new federal funding to expand south from Kennebunk to North Berwick.

“This funding is a major step towards completing the Eastern Trail and East Coast Greenway in southern Maine, which will expand economic development, outdoor recreation, and equitable active transportation opportunities in the region,” said Kristine Keeney, East Coast Greenway Alliance Northern New England Manager.

11 Miles of New Trails

Jon Kachmar, Executive Director of the Eastern Trail, announced how thrilled he was to see this dream come true. “The final engineering design has been on the Eastern Trail radar for several years and we’re excited. It’s finally happening. When the new trail is constructed, it will represent the longest section of the Eastern Trail built to date, creating eleven miles of new trail (from Kennebunk to North Berwick) for walkers, bikers, runners, wheelchair users, and other non-motorized modes of transportation, both for people nearby as well as from away.”

Kachmar is responsible for managing and supporting the Eastern Trail Alliance and its maintenance and construction. He notes they are not done yet. “…When we hit North Berwick, we’re working collaboratively with communities to the south to continue our push to the New Hampshire border. This next project plans to connect the Eastern Trail to South Berwick, Elliot, Kittery, and finally reach the New Hampshire border. Maybe we’ll call this the Berwick to the Border campaign! With the rest of New England, we’re excited, albeit a bit nervous about such big ambitions.”

“Because we believe in it.”

Chellie Pingree smiled as she spoke passionately about the funding and how it came to the Eastern Trail in Maine. “This wouldn’t have happened without the supportive (local) communities… I couldn’t be more excited to think about this trail coming all this way … and not having any more breaks in it where you have to go off and ride on the road. And especially during our busy summers. I’m a bicyclist myself and I love nothing more than riding on a bike trail and to keep riding for a very long time.”

Read the entire article online here.

News Center Maine
Latest News

Plans begin to move trail system entirely off-road

A $700,000 federal grant will help convert on-road trail portions of 55-mile network to off-road.

View the news video and read the entire article online here.

KENNEBUNK, Maine — Michael and Charlene Flynn are serious trail bicyclists. It’s a part of their routine.

“It’s very important, just to be able to get out and do things,” Michael Flynn said.

The snowbird couple is back up in southern Maine after wintering in Florida. The two drove north but they, along with the two dogs they take with them on bike trips in a basket, could have biked back along one trail system from Key West to Calais, the East Coast Greenway, if it weren’t for the challenges they’d face.

“The roads are too dangerous,” Charlene Flynn said. “A lot of people get killed on regular roads.”

Jon Kachmar is the executive director of the Eastern Trail Alliance, which oversees the Eastern Trail – the portion of the East Coast Greenway from Kittery to Bug Light in South Portland. We met Kachmar and the Flynn’s in Kennebunk – the source of a minor snag.

The current section of the Eastern Trail from Kennebunk to Kittery is entirely on roads, leaving runners, cyclists, and horseback riders to compete with cars.

Kachmar and the trail’s stewards just got $700,000 in a federal grant to plan a new 33-mile stretch of trail through the woods, away from traffic.

“It will really open us up to providing that transportation corridor that people can use for whatever reason they want to get around, to get out of their cars, and be safe,” Kachmar said.

Wells has been contributing money to the trail system annually, despite its entire route through town following some of the busiest summer traffic roads in New England. Larissa Crockett, Wells’ town manager, said they have been acting with a long-term payoff in mind. Now, it looks like that payoff will come.

The grant will fund designs for the new trail routes. Kachmar said they’ll still need to fundraise up to $9 million to build the trail.

Despite the price tag, Kachmar said communities and businesses have already shown they’re ready and willing to help get the trails in their southern Maine neighborhoods up and running.

View the news video and read the entire article online here.

Rep. Pingree at Press Conference
Latest News

Celebrating New Funding to Expand the Eastern Trail

On Friday, Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) and members from the Eastern Trail Alliance and the East Coast Greenway Alliance celebrated $700,000 in new federal funding to expand the Eastern Trail with an event in Kennebunk. The funding, secured by Pingree in the Fiscal Year 2022 Appropriations Bill alongside nine other community projects, will expand the Eastern Trail 11 miles from Kennebunk to North Berwick, supporting the development of an active transportation corridor and recreational trail that offers significant social, economic, and environmental benefits.

“With this federal funding, Maine’s southern communities will be connected with a new, 11-mile stretch of off-road trail, supporting local economies and fostering a safe and sustainable route through some of Maine’s most populated areas,” said Congresswoman Pingree. “I’m proud I was able to secure the funding to support this expansion through my role on the House Appropriations Committee.”

“The expansion of trail south towards our goal of getting to the Maine New Hampshire border will provide a significant investment in off-road trails in Southern Maine,” said Jon Kachmar, Eastern Trail Executive Director.

“This funding is a major step towards completing the Eastern Trail and East Coast Greenway in southern Maine, which will expand economic development, outdoor recreation and equitable active transportation opportunities in the region” said Kristine Keeney, East Coast Greenway Alliance Northern New England Manager. “I am excited to continue to work alongside the Eastern Trail and other local partners to complete the East Coast Greenway in Maine.”

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, right, gestures towards the $700,000 check she presented during Friday’s event. (Left: Kristine Keeney, East Coast Greenway Alliance Northern New England Manager; Center: Mike Pardue, Kennebunk Town Manager)

“The Eastern Trail is tremendously popular with the residents and visitors of Kennebunk. The $700,000 in new federal funding, is sure to foster increased economic growth and outdoor recreation for Kennebunk and the region,” said Kennebunk Town Manager Mike Pardue.

“This is a great project and it will be a wonderful addition to the health of our community providing transportation and recreational opportunities, especially for cycling enthusiasts,” said North Berwick Town Manager Dwayne Morin. “We have two large employers in town, and having this off-road trail access will be a tremendous benefit to their employees, providing alternate means of traveling to work. I’m pleased to see this progress.”

“The Town of Wells has been a supporter of the Eastern Trail for many years because we recognize the value access to outdoor recreation has for the people of Wells and the value the trail will bring to our tourism economy. The Eastern Trail is a wonderful example of what vision paired with long-term commitment can do to create a vibrant community resource,” said Wells Town Manager Larissa Crockett.

Nonesuch River Crossing on the Eastern Trail
Latest News

Eastern Trail Alliance closing in on closing gap between Scarborough, South Portland

The organization and Scarborough officials are working on securing one remaining property easement that will allow the trail to be connected from the Black Point area to Wainwright fields in South Portland.

BY DREW JOHNSON | THE FORECASTER/PORTLAND PRESS HERALD | PUBLISHED APRIL 27, 2022

The project connecting the Eastern Trail between Black Point Road in Scarborough and the Wainwright Recreation Complex in South Portland is closer to going out to bid.

The Eastern Trail Alliance’s Close the Gap project will add 1.6 miles to the 65-mile long Eastern Trail, which will then stretch continuously from South Portland’s Bug Light Park to Kittery. The Eastern Trail is part of the East Coast Greenway that, when completed, will span about 2,900 miles from Calais to Key West, Florida.

The $6.1 million Close the Gap project will be paid for with $5.5 million in state and federal funding and another $560,000 the alliance has raised.

All that’s needed to move the project toward construction is the receipt of one landowner easement.

“One of the requirements of the Maine DOT funding is all easements that the trail will be built through have to be in place,” said Jon Kachmar, the alliance’s executive director. “We have one outstanding that we hope to secure very soon.”

Scarborough Town Manager Tom Hall said the last easement has been a challenge.

“The project remains right at the doorstep of going to bid,” Hall said. “The trail design does go through a number of private property owners. We’re dealing one-by-one with the property owners; what we need from each of them is slightly different.”

Hall said because most of the gap runs through Scarborough, the town has been “taking the lead” on the project and in collaboration with South Portland has worked with property owners there as well. Scarborough is collaborating with the city on the final easement, he said.

Scarborough and South Portland have contributed a total of $287,000 to link the trail.

“We’ve been supporting it 100% throughout,” South Portland Assistant City Manager Joshua Reny said. “We’re looking forward to bringing this phase to a close and get going on construction.”

The new part of the trail would run through several hundred feet of city land in its approach Wainwright complex, Reny said.

While the trail addition is relatively small, the project is not simple.

“It’s a very complex section of trail,” said Kachmar. “Although not long in the length of it, it has a lot of infrastructure.”

That infrastructure comes in the form of multiple water and wetland crossings, including two bridges. One is to be built over the Nonesuch River while the other is over a railroad crossing south of Pleasant Hill Road.

“There’s a 300-foot pedestrian and bike bridge that will go over a railroad crossing,” Kachmar said, and because the rail line is active, it must be at least 22 feet high.

There are also requirements to meet the needs of people with disabilities, calling for no more than a 5% incline of the slopes leading up to the bridge.

The bridge over the Nonesuch River is slightly less challenging, with existing infrastructure already in place for access to it. In addition, there will be four or five other minor water and wetland crossings, Kachmar said, which will be built out of wood. The remainder of the trail will be mostly paved.

The trail has multiple purposes, like nature walks, off-road biking and snowshoeing. Closing the gap, however, could also present other opportunities, including commuting.

“We’re hearing from people who are really eager about getting the trail there,” he said. “There is significant demand for being able to get to those communities, both for recreation and we’re hearing more and more people wanting it for work.”

Hall agreed, saying that it will allow “expanded recreational opportunities, but also commuting opportunities.”

The outstanding easement, however, remains the final hurdle.

“The town will continue to persevere,” Hall said. “We just think this is too important to fail.”

Once the easement is settled, the project will go out to bid. Construction is expected to take 18 to 24 months, Kachmar said.

Read the entire article online here

Wildlife seen on the Eastern Trail
Latest News

Cameras capture 60 wildlife species in Eastern Trail gap

A University of New England project is documenting animal’s use of the area for the Eastern Trail Alliance.

BY DREW JOHNSON | THE FORECASTER/PORTLAND PRESS HERALD | PUBLISHED APRIL 27, 2022

Wildlife abounds in the 1.6-mile gap between the Eastern Trail in Scarborough and where the trail picks up in South Portland, and for the past four years, the animals have been captured on camera.

The GapTracks project, conducted by University of New England professor Noah Perlut and students in his Terrestrial Wildlife course, has documented thousands of videos and still images of 60 animal species living in, feeding at and passing through the gap.

The wildlife includes coyotes, deer, turkeys, bobcats, river otters, short-tailed weasels, gray foxes and a even a moose.

The project is using its data analysis to aid the Eastern Trail Alliance, which is working to fill the trail gap between the Black Point area in Scarborough and Wainwright Recreational Complex in South Portland.

“It’s a huge benefit to us in terms of just understanding how wildlife is using that trail and after it’s built how it will use it, post-construction and that allows us to better understand our impact,” said Jon Kachmar, the alliance’s executive director.

Remote cameras placed in the gap pick up sights and sounds.

“Every time there was a movement or sound, a picture would be taken and then a video,” said Nicole Corriveau, a senior and environmental science major at UNE. “If there were animal sounds or animals in the picture or videos, we would mark that video and put it into our database of what species it was.”

Perlut’s students spend two hours per week sifting through the videos and photos and gathering data.

Many of the clips the cameras have captured, however, are of the wind.

“It’s a lot of watching footage that has nothing on it,” said Cameron Indeck, a senior environmental science major. “But the few clips you end up finding in there that have a deer and a fawn walking by or a fox, it’s very rewarding.”

Moose seen on the Eastern Trail

The GapTracks project captured this photo of a moose on the 1.6 mile gap of the Eastern Trail between Scarborough and South Portland. Contributed / Noah Perlut, GapTracks

Madi Harvey, a junior environmental studies major, agrees that “hours of looking through videos of wind blowing gets a bit discouraging.”

“But it was all worth it – seeing beautiful videos of regal red foxes, to red-tailed hawks hunting squirrels, to fat raccoons waddling around,” Harvey said in an email to The Forecaster.

Catching a moose on camera in the fall of 2020 was a bit of a surprise.

“There was a moose that showed up on Scarborough High School’s football field in the morning on a school day,” Perlut said. “It hung out there for a while and it made its way to Willard Beach where it was tranquilized and brought to the forest away from suburbia.”

Read the entire article online here