Nearly 20 years of expansion has proven successful, and more is on the way.

Sunday, May 25, 12:01 A.M.

Pennsylvania trail guru Carl Knoch said it takes decades to build an off-road, long-distance bike path through urban areas.

In southern Maine it’s been nearly 17 years since the Eastern Trail was launched. And as we close in on two decades of work, the effort behind this urban trail has gained ground, quite literally.

I can attest to that, having spent the past decade waiting for the Eastern Trail Alliance, the nonprofit behind the trail’s development, to make it worth my while as a long-distance cyclist.

Four years ago the Eastern Trail Alliance founder, John Andrews, promised me they’d get me an off-road commuter route from my home in Kennebunkport to Portland. True to his word, it happened a year later when the Eastern Trail bicycle-and-pedestrian bridges were built over Route 1 and Interstate 95, and five miles of trails were added between Kennebunk and Old Orchard Beach.

Andrews and his band of bicyclists have proven relentless. And this summer they’re not slowing as they fan out across this trail that now covers 20.7 miles to conduct an economic-impact study to help build support to expand the trail to Wells, South Berwick, Eliot and Kittery.

An Eastern Trail sign along Broadturn Road in Scarborough is part of a well-signed route for cyclists. Not bad for an idea formed less than two decades ago.

In 2001, when I arrived at the Maine Sunday Telegram, all that existed of the trail was a 5-mile section in South Portland. But there was talk of expanding it as far as Kittery. And all I could think was, how likely is that?

On the other hand, you had to agree it was a good idea. So Staff Photographer Greg Rec and I saddled up our road bikes with reporting and photography equipment, and set out to cover the 70-plus miles of the proposed trail that had just been marked along the roads that followed the proposed off-road route.

We started at dawn from the Route 1 bridge over the Piscataqua River in Kittery and rode to dusk, taking photographs along the way and finishing at Bug Light in South Portland, where an editor ferried us back to our cars. Then as we each drove north from the Piscataqua River as the sun set, I worried we’d both fall asleep at the wheel. But I also recalled the sight of old barns, rocky brooks, wildflower fields and birch tree groves. Suddenly I saw this crazy idea anew.

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