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Local Spotlight: Patrick Conlon (Our Own Trail Program Manager!)

Saco Bay News | Randy Seaver, Contributing Writer | Mon, Nov 06, 2023

A pedestrian was struck and killed by a motorist on Spring Street in Saco last week. Just a few months before that tragic accident, another pedestrian was struck and killed near the intersection of Water and Main streets in Saco.

These tragedies underscore Patrick Conlon’s hope that both Biddeford and Saco will become the first communities in Maine to adopt the Vision Zero initiative. Vision Zero is a global program that began in Sweden as is now sweeping across many communities in the United States. The goal of Vision Zero is to improve safety and to eliminate traffic deaths: a vision for zero traffic deaths.

Conlon, 62, moved to Biddeford from New Jersey a few years ago. He discovered the area while visiting his wife’s family in the Ocean Park area several years ago. “The more I looked around, the more I liked this area,” he said. “I really liked the vibe I felt while biking along Main Street in Biddeford.”

For many years, Conlon worked in the publishing industry as a graphic artist for publications such as Rolling Stone magazine and the Wall Street Journal. Today, he works as the Trail Manager for the Eastern Trail, a connected series of hiking, biking and walking trails that extends from Kittery to Bug Light in South Portland.

Although nearly two-thirds of the 62-mile Eastern Trail runs along roadways, Conlon is hoping that the trail can be expanded over time and rely less on public roads and highways.

To say that Conlon is an avid bicyclist would be a gross understatement. Conlon literally rides his bike everywhere, describing himself as belonging to the “fearless” category of bicyclists.

Your job is to maintain several miles of trails between Kittery and South Portland, and you take your bike to work?

“Oh yeah. (Smiles) I bike whenever I can. I typically carry tools in my (rear-wheel bags) such as a folding rake, a chainsaw and pruning shears.”

The Eastern Trail is basically southern Maine’s portion of the much larger East Coast Greenway, right?

“Exactly, so the East Coast Greenway runs along the Eastern seaboard from Florida to Maine, and it continues along much of the Eastern Trail, all the way to Calais.

How did the Eastern Trail become a reality?

(Laughs) “Well, you can pretty much thank the beavers for the creation of the Eastern Trail. What many people don’t know is that the Eastern Trail pretty much follows on top of the underground right-of-way that belongs to Unitil, a gas and oil company. Previously, the right-of-way belonged to the Eastern Rail Line.

“Basically, many people used to hike along a section of that trail through the woods in Arundel. The gas company benefitted from having people keeping eyes on the trail. Well, one year the drainage ditches along the trail were flooded because of beavers building a dam.

“We went in to fix the problem and ever since, we have had co-access to the trail. So, it was the beavers that made us realize that a lot of people enjoyed the trail and that it could benefit from some routine maintenance.”

You’re a champion of creating more bicycle lanes in the Biddeford-Saco area. What’s the stumbling block to making that happen?

“Actually, we just have to decide to make it a reality. We’re making some progress, but we have a long way to go. It’s one of those things that challenges the status-quo. We have to be able to step back and see the much larger picture. We can do it incrementally.

“Every time we repave a section of road, why not mark off a lane on that roadway? If it’s too narrow, maybe just widen the road a bit. We’re already there. Already spending money to fix the road, why not add a bike lane?”

You say more bike lanes will encourage more people to ride bicycles and reduce traffic problems.

“That’s right. As it is now, there are many areas where it’s just not safe to ride a bike. Basically, there are three categories of bicyclists. The first category is the ‘fearless’ group. That’s the category I fit into. We basically will ride our bikes anywhere, even along major roadways such as Rte. 111 and outer Route One. The second category is the people who will likely never ride a bike, regardless of what we do. The third category, which I believe is the largest group, is made of people who are interested in biking as alternative transportation, but they find current traffic patterns to be daunting.”

It’s not uncommon to hear motorists complain about bicyclists not following the rules of the road.

I understand those complaints and concerns. Unfortunately, some cyclists don’t follow the rules of the road and that can create dangerous situations. I believe we should be teaching bicycle safety and regulations in school.

“There are so many benefits to cycling. You have better health outcomes; reduce carbon emissions and you actually improve local economies. We, especially in the United States, live in a society that has been basically indoctrinated with the belief that cars should be the de-facto mode of transportation.

“Again, I think we need to step back and look at the bigger picture. You always have the option of shopping more frequently and buying fewer groceries with each trip. People who live in more urban areas tend to shop that way. We have to be willing to re-examine our priorities.”

You say the city of Saco is a step ahead of Biddeford in creating a plan to encourage bicycling and walking.

“I would like to see Biddeford commission a master bike plan so that we can start planning for the future in a more cohesive way. Just having it on paper would be a huge first step. And we should look at both cities together.

“You have to start somewhere, and right now we’re not really doing anything. We need a guide to get us where we want to be. Saco has already established a Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee. We need to follow their lead and join forces with them. I strongly, so strongly, support creating a better connection between the two cities for both pedestrians and bicyclists.

“As our populations increases, our traffic is going to increase. We absolutely need to look at ways to improve our traffic and make public safety a top priority.”

You can read the full article online here.

What Does the ET mean to You?2U
Latest News

What Does the Eastern Trail Mean to You? Please take our survey

Dear Eastern Trail Enthusiast,

Every community along the Eastern Trail is an important part of our mission, and your voice matters! The Eastern Trail Alliance wants to hear what you think about us and how we can better fulfill our mission.

Can you spare a few minutes to share your thoughts on how important the trail is to you and your top priorities? Your input will help us to shape a brighter future for the Eastern Trail and continue to develop this fantastic resource in Southern Maine.


Thanks for being part of our journey!


Randi Hogan, ETA Board President signature

Randi Hogan
President, Board of Trustees
Eastern Trail Alliance

Latest News

Maine Lighthouse Ride brings together bicyclists for fundraiser

Nearly 800 riders took part in the 20th annual ride along the southern Maine coast, with registrations benefiting the Eastern Trail Alliance.

By Luna Soley | Times Record

SOUTH PORTLAND — There were sheer curtains of fog drawn across the bay, the sort of morning that makes you want to stay in bed. Not so for the riders gathered by Spring Point Light, chatting, adjusting helmets, and hailing friends as they waited for the go-ahead at 7 a.m. last Sunday to begin the 20th annual Maine Lighthouse Ride.

“We’re going to go off in groups of 50,” a volunteer instructed by megaphone. “Don’t be shy, feel free to come right up.”

Nearly 800 bicyclists took part in the event – coming from as far as Ontario and ranging in age from 7 to 89 – to ride routes of 25, 40, 62 or 100 miles along the southern Maine coast. About half of the riders were from Maine.

There was a sense of camaraderie. Leah Day of Peaks Island, seemed to speak for many riders when she said, “There’s no better way to spend the day than doing the Maine Lighthouse Ride!”

Day is the owner of Lighthouse Bikes in South Portland. She left a 25-year career in counseling to start the company after riding cross country with her son in 2019, when he was in high school. She did the 100-mile ride Sunday with a group of women from Peaks Island, one of whom said she hadn’t ridden that far since before her children were born.

The Maine Lighthouse Ride is an annual fundraiser to support the Eastern Trail Alliance, a nonprofit founded in 1998 with the aim of turning sections of the old Eastern Railroad Corridor into a continuous route for bikers and hikers. The Eastern Trail now covers approximately 65 miles, from the Piscataqua River in Kittery to South Portland.

The fundraiser is generated by registration fees, which ranged from $115 for the 25-mile ride to $140 for the 100-miler, or century ride as it is called. Bob Bowker, the ride’s founder, said proceeds from this year’s ride will go toward maintaining the route, improving kiosks and paying staff.

Participation in the event has grown dramatically since the inaugural ride in 2003, held as a 40-mile route by 40 determined riders in the rain.

“We were actually following the riders around with hot coffee and hot soup,” Bowker said. After four or five years, “We were up to 300 or 400 riders,” he added. “It was mostly word of mouth, it just kept growing and growing.”

The Eastern Trail has added 11 miles of off-road trail to its network since 2008. Still, there is a long way to go to complete the alliance’s ambitious vision of connecting Kittery to South Portland with a continuous off-road trail. The campaign to “Close the Gap” with a 1.6-mile connector trail between South Portland and Scarborough has taken longer than anticipated. The alliance has received funding and approval for the project, but officials don’t anticipate breaking ground until early next year.

However, Bob Hamblen, vice president of the board of the Eastern Trail Alliance and former city planner in Saco, said he feels “more positive than ever” about the progress of the trail. “We may be in a bit of a holding pattern for the Close the Gap project, but we know that that will be brought to a conclusion in the relatively near future.”

The bicyclists riding in support of the alliance went off in half-hour intervals on Sunday, depending on the length of their routes, with the century riders leaving first at 7 o’clock.

When asked whether he was nervous before the century start, Doug Brockelbank replied, “No, no I love it.” Then he paused for a few moments, unsure if he heard the question correctly. “At risk? Is that what you said? No, I’m excited.”

His friend interjected. “He’s definitely at risk,” he said, laughing.

Less than 5 minutes later, their jersey-clad backs, hunched over their bikes at a matching angle, disappeared around the first turn.

Despite winding roads through Cape Elizabeth, frequent spurs suddenly leading to an open coast, and the not-so-welcome interruption of 2 1/2 miles of gravel road across the Scarborough Marsh (repeated twice for riders doing 40, 62, and 100 miles), nobody seemed to lose their way. As promised, neon orange circles – with a line pointing in the direction of the next turn, were spray painted at frequent intervals along the route.

A rest stop at Cape Elizabeth’s Kettle Cove proved to be popular among the riders. Between predictable slices of watermelon and a heap of bananas, trays of pickles and a big bowl of chocolate peanut butter cups were disappearing at time-lapse speed. The contents of the trash can were flecked with gold foil. This was not a day to eat just one.

A mere 2 miles from the finish, riders climbed a steep hill and stopped to admire the view from Portland Head Light. “There’s a lot of interesting history and symbolism in these lighthouses,” said Reed Carlman, a senior at Bowdoin College, “but mostly I’m just glad to be along for the ride.”

Read the entire article online here.

Portland Head Light beckoned less than three miles from the end of the ride. Luna Soley photo
Latest News

Hundreds biked up to 100 miles on Sunday to support the Eastern Trail

More than 750 bikers gathered for the Maine Lighthouse Ride on Sunday, a fundraiser for the Eastern Trail Alliance. 25-, 40-, 62-, and 100-mile routes stretched from South Portland to as far as Kennebunkport.

KENNEBUNK POST | Posted 9/11/2023 8:03 PM

SOUTH PORTLAND – There were sheer curtains of fog drawn across the bay last Sunday, the sort of morning that makes you want to stay in bed. Not so for the over 100 people gathered by Spring Point Light in South Portland, chatting, adjusting helmets, and hailing friends as they waited for the go-ahead to begin a 100-mile Century bike ride.

“We’re going to go off in groups of 50,” a volunteer instructed by megaphone, “don’t be shy, feel free to come right up.”

The Trader Joe’s rest stop at Kettle Cove was stocked with fruit, pickles, and peanut butter cups. Luna Soley photo

The Trader Joe’s rest stop at Kettle Cove was stocked with fruit, pickles, and peanut butter cups. Luna Soley photo

“Don’t tell anybody we’re not really doing the 100-miler,” confided two older women dressed in matching neon yellow windbreakers, “We’re trying to beat the rain.”

Two teenagers, conspicuously wearing shorts and T-shirts despite the chill, wanted to be quoted in the paper. “My names Noland,” said one, “and my name’s Ian,” added the other – and then said, in unison, “and we’re both excited for the 100-mile bike ride!”

Sept. 10 was the 20th anniversary of the Maine Lighthouse Ride, first completed as a 40-mile route by 40 determined riders in the rain in 2003.

“We were actually following the riders around with hot coffee and hot soup,” said Bob Bowker, the ride’s founder. After four or five years, Bowker recounted proudly, “We were up to 300 or 400 riders. It was mostly word of mouth, it just kept growing and growing.”

The Maine Lighthouse Ride is an annual fundraiser to support the Eastern Trail Alliance, a nonprofit founded in 1998 with the aim of turning sections of the old Eastern Railroad Corridor, discontinued since 1945, into a continuous route for bikers and hikers to enjoy. The Eastern Trail now covers approximately 65 miles, from the Piscataqua River in Kittery, near the New Hampshire border, to South Portland, Maine. Bowker said proceeds from this year’s ride will go towards maintaining the route, improving kiosks, and paying staff.

This year, over 750 participants travelled from as far as Ontario, Canada, to ride 25-, 40-, 62-, and 100-mile routes along the Southern Maine coast, paying a registration fee to support the Eastern Trail. They ranged in age from 7 to 89 years old, hailing in equal numbers from Maine and out of state.

Read the remainder of the article online here

ECG Over the River Video cover image
Latest News

New Video Released for our “Over the River” Trail Development Campaign

The East Coast Greenway Alliance (ECGA) just recently produced a new video about the Eastern Trail’s Over the River Campaign. The East Coast Greenway connects 15 states and 450 cities and towns for 3,000 miles from Maine to Florida, with the Eastern Trail serving as the East Coast Greenway route in southern Maine.

Read below the ECGA’s introduction to the video, and then watch the video:

“Working together, we can close a key gap of the East Coast Greenway and the Eastern Trail in Maine. The Over the River section of trail transits 3 miles through Saco and Biddeford, Maine – the most significant population density along the Eastern Trail. Building improved trail connections through these two communities is a priority for our local partners and the East Coast Greenway. Together, we can complete the East Coast Greenway in Maine:

Connecting People to Place: The nonprofit East Coast Greenway Alliance leads the development of a walking and biking route stretching 3,000 miles from Maine to Florida. The East Coast Greenway is designed to transform the 15 states and 450 communities it connects through active and healthy lifestyles, sustainable transportation, community engagement, climate resilience, active tourism, and more. Learn more:”

Bikers in front of the U.S. Capitol
Latest News

$4 Million Grant Builds on Funding Rep. Pingree Secured to Expand Eastern Trail

For Immediate Release: June 27, 2023
Media Contact: Victoria Bonney, 202-577-8541

WASHINGTON, DC—Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) today welcomed $4 million in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to expand the Eastern Trail in Southern Maine. The Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grant, funded through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, builds on the Congressionally directed funding Pingree secured for the Eastern Trail’s “Blaze the Trail South” project in the Fiscal Year 2022 Appropriations bill.

“The Eastern Trail supports local economies and fosters a safe, sustainable route through some of southern Maine’s most populated areas,” said Pingree. “I was proud to secure the funding Maine DOT needed to get this project started with sound engineering, planning, and design. With this additional federal grant, we’ll be hitting the trail in no time!”

The RAISE grant will go towards the construction of approximately 2.7 miles of off-road trail that continues the expansion of the Eastern Trail from Kennebunk to North Berwick, supporting the development of an active transportation corridor and recreational trail that offers significant social, economic, and environmental benefits.

The Eastern Trail is the Southern Maine portion of the 3,000-mile East Coast Greenway that traverses the East Coast between Calais, Maine and Key West, Fla. Based on a 2021 economic impact analysis, there are 250,000 people using the trail annually, and each user spends an average of $118 per day. The trail also supports 364 jobs across the state, $12.5 million in earnings and $32.1 million in sales, with most sales coming from overnight lodging, food and drink, and retail items.

When complete, Blaze the Trail South will add 25 miles of off-road trail connecting 7 communities from Kennebunk to Kittery in one of the most densely populated regions in the state (York County). This will provide a safe and convenient facility for bicycle commuters, recreational riders, walkers, runners, and wheelchair users for transportation, health, and outdoor enjoyment.

Pingree is a member of the House Appropriations Committee.

Among the Trees Beer label
Latest News

Announcing the new Eastern Trail Beer from Banded Brewing Company

Banded Brewing LogoWe are pleased to announce the Eastern Trail Beer from Banded Brewing Company.

“Among the Trees” is a new draft-only Amber Ale with Toasted Birch Bark! Refreshing yet complex with warming spices and earthy herbs.

$1 off every pour goes to support the Eastern Trail$1 from each draft sold in Banded Brewing Co.’s two tasting rooms will support the Eastern Trail Alliance. These are:

  • Flagship location in Biddeford’s Pepperell Mill
  • 82 Hanover Street in Portland

The new beer was unveiled on Saturday, June 24 after our first 2023 Bike and Brew ride

Enjoy this new beverage and provide support to the Eastern Trail while you do!

Trail construction
Latest News

Eastern Trail Building Campaigns Update

ET Campaign Overview MapThe Eastern Trail has a tremendous amount of trail expansion work underway. This is all possible due to our amazing donors and staff at the Eastern Trail. We now have every mile between Bug Light and the Kittery border under some form of feasibility study, engineering design, or construction work. See  below for a list of this exciting work.

More detail on all of these campaigns can be viewed here.

Close the Gap – Scarborough to South Portland, 1.6 miles

  • Ready for construction
  • Construction bid Aug 30, 2023

Over the River – Biddeford/Saco, 3 miles

  • Feasibility complete, pending engineering design
  • Seeking engineering design funds

Blaze the Trail South – Kennebunk, Wells, N. Berwick, 11 miles

  • Feasibility complete, engineering funded
  • Engineering design bid Fall 2023

Berwicks to the Border – South Berwick, Eliot, York, and Kittery, 16 miles

  • Feasibility begins summer 2023
  • Feasibility completed 2025
Jim Munroe bench
Latest News

Trail Bench Installed to Honor Jim Munroe, longtime ET Advocate

Jim MunroeA new bench was recently installed in Scarborough near the Old Blue Point kiosk in honor of Jim Munroe, a dedicated trail advocate who passed away in April 2020. Jim was a long time member of the Eastern Trail Alliance board and left part of his estate to the Eastern Trail. The City of Saco, the Eastern Trail Alliance, and the trustees of Jim’s estate collaborated to place a bench at this location.

A small gathering was held June 5 to celebrate Jim Munroe’s generous donation to the Eastern Trail.

In addition to supporting the trail, Jim supported local musicians and donated his immense vintage rock and roll vinyl and posters to a young, aspiring DJ in the Saco/Bidd area.

You can read his obituary here.

Think of Jim and his generous support for the Eastern Trail when you pass or take a brief rest on his bench!

Jim Munroe bench
People gathered at the bench donated by Jim Munro
Proposed New Bridget to Cross the Nonesuch River
Latest News

Final Trail Easement for Close the Gap Segment Completed

Great news!!

We have completed the final trail easement for the Close the Gap segment, which allows up to move forward with construction.

We anticipate that the Close the Gap project connecting Scarborough and South Portland will be ready to go out to construction bidding by January 30, 2023.

Please remember this project will take 18-24 months to complete, but we plan to get started soon!

(image shows the future crossing of the Nonesuch River in Scarborough headed towards Wainwright Fields in South Portland)

Here are some local news reports of this exciting news:

The Eastern Trail to “Close the Gap” between South Portland and Scarborough with connecting expansion (Portland Press Herald)

Eastern Trail completes final trail easement between Scarborough and South Portland (News Center Maine)