Eastern Trail Alliance eyes expansion
Optimally, the off-road trail will continue from South Portland through Wells, North and South Berwick and Eliot, all the way down to Kittery. The alliance held an informational meeting Tuesday, March 26 in North Berwick to discuss expansion plans and feel out any opposition.
Formally designed in 1998 to follow the abandoned Eastern Railway, the Eastern Trail was constructed for runners, hikers, bikers and other general outdoor enthusiasts.
Nearly every year since the millennium, new paths have been forged between South Portland and Kennebunk.
“There was some reluctance in southern Maine about the trail — there was skepticism whether the trail would ever get built over the Kennebunk turnpike,” said Deborah Erickson Irons, director of Choose to Be Healthy Coalition and Eastern Trail Alliance trustee.
“People wondered, ‘Will we ever get the benefits of the trail down here?’ To the town’s credit, they have been patient and now they see that the trail is ready in Kennebunk. We’re over the hurdle of putting it over the turnpike,” she said.
“We’re seeking funding to extend the offroad trail from where it is in Kennebunk now, farther south,” said Erickson-Irons. “We wanted to start generating interest in the south, so we formed a small committee to focus on North Berwick and South Berwick.”
About 30 people attended Tuesday’s meeting — some from South Berwick, some from Kennebunk.
“Everyone in attendance was supportive of the trail. Part of our reason for holding the meeting was to feel out opposition. To our knowledge there are no outlying concerns,” said Erickson-Irons.
Primary funding for the Eastern Trail Alliance comes from Maine’s Department of Transportation.
Individual towns, however, are expected to match 20 percent of the money provided by the Department of Transportation, whether it is allocated in the city’s budget, or procured through town fundraisers.
With the Eastern Trail currently ending in Kennebunk, the immediate goal is raising awareness in the remaining towns.
“The reason we’ve pulled our meetings south is to pull in more southern communities and to generate their interest,” said Carole Brush, executive director of the Eastern Trail Alliance.
“There’s usually a two-year funding cycle space — space we’ve submitted to design funding through Wells and anticipate continuing south from there,” said Brush.
In addition to funding for Wells, Erickson- Irons said Kennebunk has also approved some funding for the trail.
“The next thing would be for townspeople to discuss the expansion of the trail in North Berwick, South Berwick and with the town’s counsel,” she said.
“We know that where there are trails, there are people who will use them. People are more physically active if they have a trail resource nearby to utilize. Second to quitting smoking, being physically active is the best thing you can do for your health,” she added.
Details for upcoming meetings can be found at easterntrail.org.
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