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.

How would this help tourism?

PS: The tourism folks say they want to expand their offerings in this region. The various chambers say tourism in York County is the beaches, and understandably so. But they think this idea will offer a different product.

How many miles of trails are we talking about?

PS: It would be a couple hundred miles. What the snowmobiler clubs are doing is eye-opening. They have simple, one-page agreements allowing for access to create their massive trail system on private land.

LB: Mt. Agamenticus alone has 30 to 40 miles of trails. Sanford already offers 30 miles of trails.

There are many clusters of trail systems along the coast. But the largest trail network is near the western border on the snowmobile trails. They are on private property. We need to adopt their approach. They already have the method for creating trails.

Where are the other large clusters of trails in York County?

LB: The Massabesic Forest, owned by the U.S. Forest Service; the Wells Barren and Kennebunk Plains, owned by Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and The Nature Conservancy; the Mt. Agamenticus land; the urban Sanford trail system; and the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust has virtually built a connecting trail from the coast inland.

How will you build the trail?

PS: We are regional planners trying to facilitate this project but we’re not trail builders. We want to team up with interested groups who have the ability to do that.

LB: I think one good model is the farm walk we had in Sanford recently. Dozens of farms within walking distances participated in a one-day, four-mile walk when they opened their fields to the public to come hike. As a result of that successful event, one farmer said if we raise the money to build the trail, he will provide an easement over his land. It’s only half a mile, but that one trail could be a critical link to this larger trail network. The trail will cost $6,000 to build it over a wet section. It’s the type of thing that’s possible. We need to get the public more involved with this linkage of trails.

Is it possible the project will fall flat?

LB: We will not complete it in a year. But there is a lot of enthusiasm for this. It’s a road map.

PS: I think trails are hot. Trails have deeper meaning today. They are a way to exercise, spend time with your kids or provide an option for tourists.