YARMOUTH — Santa Claus made an early appearance on the morning before Christmas to lead children and their parents on a nature walk on the newly finished trails of Yarmouth’s West Side Trail system.

Tuesday’s outing, followed by cookies and hot cocoa, was a chance to showcase the work done this year by volunteers and through state grant funding to expand the growing trail system. The system eventually will run from Cousins Island to North Yarmouth via the Central Maine Power line corridor on the west side of town.

Santa, while appearing jolly in his red suit and white beard, had a problem, he told the crowd of children who stood around him.

“My elves got to the trail, and they all ran away,” Santa told the children in the parking lot of Tyler Technologies off Route 1, where a trailhead leads to the network of looping trails that joins a straighter set of trails that run along the CMP line. “You have to help me find them. Your job is to count them.”

Santa pointed to a garden gnome planted in the snow down the trail, showing the children the first of his missing miniature helpers.

“So who wants to go find elves?” Santa asked, prompting the dozen or so children to thrust their hands in the chilly morning air. “Let’s go!”

Work on the trail system this summer and fall expanded the network to cover about five miles. That work expanded a project that began in 2011, initially led by Dan Ostrye, director of Yarmouth’s bike and pedestrian subcommittee and Jim Tasse, education director for the Bike Coalition of Maine.

The town had a lease with CMP for years which allowed Yarmouth to develop trails, but never did anything with it. In 2010, Ostrye started making plans to develop the trails. He got approval from the town in 2011.

“It’s been built up in sections,” said Michael Dubois, a volunteer who has helped with the project and joined Tuesday’s trail walk. It was Santa’s third year leading the walk.

The town won a grant last year through the state Recreational Trails Program, and used it to pay for work by the Maine Conservation Corps to cut and blaze new trails this summer and fall, Dubois said.

The latest section of trail is between Drinkwater Point Road and the Cousins Island bridge.

“It’s about trying to get more people aware of the trail,” Dubois said of Tuesday’s walk.

The trails are open to hikers and bikers, but ATVs are not allowed under the lease agreement. Dogs are allowed, on leash or under voice control, but horses are not.

Scott Dolan can be contacted at 791-6304 or at:sdolan@pressherald.comTwitter: @scottddolan