YARMOUTH — Lincoln Merrill’s story of Yarmouth’s newest trail may be the best.
Last fall Merrill learned from his doctor that he needed to lower his cholesterol and take medicine. Merrill refused.
He told his doctor he would lose the weight needed: more than 30 pounds. So Merrill, the president of Patriot Insurance Co. in Yarmouth, began walking at lunchtime, leaving his office and wandering into the woods.
He discovered a trail extending through the forest and running more than five miles to the coast. And he walked it each weekday.
“It was convenient. It made losing the weight easy,” Merrill said. “From September to December, I lost 34 pounds. My doctor told me to get down to 190. I got down to 189.”
The 6.2-mile West Side Trail that Merrill discovered officially opens next week with two new kiosks stocked with newly designed maps.
The effort behind the trail has involved an assortment of town and land trust officials as well as a multitude of volunteers. The vision behind it goes back to Yarmouth’s town plan from 1988. The momentum behind it is recent but apparently well-fueled.
Dan Ostrye, a member of Yarmouth’s town trail committee, got behind the effort in 2010 when he began scouting the trail. He forged a lease agreement for the town with Central Maine Power so the trail could wind through woods and meadows on Cousins Island and over the causeway to forestland on CMP property on the mainland.
With the help of the Royal River Conservation Trust, Ostrye rounded up volunteers – from members of the Boy Scouts and Rotary Club to the New England Mountain Bike Association.
Together they built, sculpted and cut a sustainable trail.
“It was just a matter of finding the right partners. Royal River Conservation Trust came into it early with support and a membership base that has given volunteer hours,” Ostrye said. “With them we came up with the idea of consistent maps of all our preserves.”
Thanks to 500 volunteer hours logged on the project, the town’s hiking committee was able to secure a $18,500 trail grant from the state’s Recreational Trail Program. The town also won a $15,000 grant from the National Park Service.
The trail has been years in the making, but the real on-the-ground work started recently.
Last week the Royal River Conservation Trust donated the material and labor for the kiosks.
“It’s what we’re trying to do across all of our preserves, to have a design and similar aesthetic for maps and kiosks,” said Alan Stearns, the trust’s executive director.
Cousins Island now is an even better birding spot, a fantastic mountain bike venue and a peaceful place for a walkabout.
“Since it opened up, it’s so great. It has a nice diversity of terrain, with meadow views and ocean views, before it skirts back into the woods,” said mountain biker Kerry Gallivan of nearby Littlejohn Island.
The suburban trail crosses 10 roads. Ostrye said that’s a positive.
“It is as much for the neighbors here as it is a destination for others,” Ostrye said. “Soon we will move to the north side of Route 1. I see getting that done in two to three years.”
The vision is to extend the West Side Trail six more miles in Yarmouth and then into trails in North Yarmouth and Cumberland. But the wild trail already is proving a popular reprieve from the suburbs.
Laura Mahoney, a mountain biker from Brunswick, came to ride it by herself last week and bumped into Ostrye. He asked her where she was from, why she came to the West Side Trail, and how she liked it.
“It’s great. A friend showed it to me,” she said. “Are you responsible for this?”
“I’m the guy,” Ostrye answered.
Then he recruited her.
“I’ll come out for a trail work day,” she said.
After retiring as chair of Yarmouth’s town trail committee a year ago, Ostrye still volunteers 12 hours a week designing and expanding the trail. He said volunteers have been the key.
“Nobody gets by me. I ask everyone I see where they are from and if they use it, and if they want to help,” he said.