Published online by the Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier/Mainely Media, January 25, 2018
Legislative Lowdown by Rep. Martin Grohman
When I first moved to Biddeford 18 years ago, the path that is now the Eastern Trail was just a four wheeler track. I lived on Mountain Road and I was fortunate to have access from my backyard. But the trail was arguably kind of sketchy and quite swampy. There was no formal access point for people not as lucky as me to have direct access. If I headed out there to snowshoe or mountain bike, I practically never saw anyone else.
It’s amazing to see how much has changed. The Eastern Trail, now graded and firmly surfaced with formal access points at Southern Maine Health Care and Thornton Academy, sees more than 100,000 users a year and generates more than a million dollars a year in economic activity for area merchants. Starting in Biddeford and heading south, this off-road section of the Eastern Trail provides more than six miles of flat, easy and scenic terrain connecting Biddeford, Arundel and Kennebunk. It also includes the only pedestrian bridge over the Maine Turnpike. It truly is a hidden gem.
Heading north from Thornton Academy, the trail runs all the way to Scarborough Marsh off road. It is built along the old Eastern Railroad Corridor, which was the first railroad to connect Boston to Portland, operating from 1842 until 1945. Soon, it will run all the way to South Portland’s Bug Light, thanks to a recent successful Closing the Gap fundraising campaign that will help fund construction of bridges over the railroad tracks and the Nonesuch River in Scarborough.
The trail is part of a larger vision, called the East Coast Greenway, which spans 3,000 miles from Maine to Florida. About one-third of it (led by the sections in Maine) is off-road today but one day, the founders hope to have an entirely off-road trail, similar to – and in fact longer than – the Appalachian Trail, but focused on a wider range of users including cyclists and walkers. This may seem like an unlikely goal, but the group has a track record of success.
Many people are surprised that the Eastern Trail is so flat and accessible. It’s close to the city, but feels miles from anywhere. Walk a short section and you’ll pass through forests, marshes and grasslands. The firm surface of stone dust is wheelchair accessible and great for strollers. Leashed dogs are allowed. There are health benefits to being outside, and in fact the staff from Southern Maine Health Care, Biddeford’s hospital, use the trail as part of their cardiac care and cancer therapy programs. It’s not groomed or plowed, so right now, you’ll need footwear with good traction (I recommend Stabilicers, made right here in Biddeford), snowshoes, or a fat bike for the best trail experience.