SPRINGVALE — A year ago Paul Schumacher and Lee Burnett began brainstorming over a question local business owners repeatedly asked: Could York County have more connecting trails?

Schumacher, the director of the Southern Maine Planning and Economic Development Commission, said the requests made sense: Trails help tourism, improve quality of life and increase the value of real estate.

So he got together with Burnett, project director at Forest Works!, which conserves forestland in York County, and began to examine the possibility of a large, interconnecting trail network.

What has resulted is a plan to connect the county’s trails using the Eastern Trail as the backbone. The ET runs through South Portland, Scarborough, Old Orchard Beach, Saco, Arundel and Kennebunk, but the goal is to connect it through Wells, South Berwick, North Berwick and Eliot.

How did this project start?

PS: At a meeting two years ago, local businesses kept asking about trails. It’s a quality-of life-issue, a quality-of-place issue. And York County does have a lot of trails on land owned by state agencies, nonprofits, land trusts, municipalities, and land trusts and water districts. What we realized was the (proposed) Eastern Trail here runs right through the center of the region. It could be the backbone of a larger trail network. So we applied for a grant with the Maine Outdoor Heritage Fund and received $12,500. We were able to use it to get a matching grant for $22,000. We’ve spent that data-gathering, mapping, gathering all the trails, using GPS to locate some of the trails.

In a way this was more than we were prepared for. We proposed a trail from the coast to Parsonsfield, near the New Hampshire border, creating an integrated trail system. That was the dream. Now we’ll need money to build the trail network.

LB: It’s challenging because there are a lot of property owners in southern Maine. And a lot of property owners don’t mind people on their land but they don’t want to open it up to the public and have people from Massachusetts littering on their land, or worse. It’s a lot more suburban here.

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