December 2, 2012

Tracks aplenty on the Eastern Trail

The trail is humming with energy and events -- and it's not done growing.

By Deirdre Fleming dfleming@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

KENNEBUNK - Since the two major bridges connecting the Eastern Trail went in this year, organized events along the trail have increased twofold.

click image to enlarge

Chilly weather notwithstanding, a moonlight hike led by the Eastern Trail Alliance attracts several dozen hikers who quietly move on the path behind Kennebunk Elementary School to enjoy the woods, wildlife and night sky.

Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

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Joe Yuhas (no hat), former University of New England science professor, lectures to more than 40 hikers on the moonlight hike.

Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

But to a large extent, the fascination, attraction and use of this off-road, woodland trail has been building steam all along.

"The last wintertime moonlit walk we had was last January. That drew 30! We might beat that today," boomed John Andrews, the 75-year-old retired engineer who is a driving force behind this trail being built between South Portland and Kittery.

Moments later, 40 interested hikers slowly drove up in the dark behind Kennebunk Elementary School to gather around Andrews and naturalist Joe Yuhas at the trail's kiosk. And after Yuhas, a former University of New England science professor, exclaimed this would be a natural history hike and search for wildlife, the headlamps went off and chatter ceased.

"You don't have to take a vow of silence, but we'll move along quietly and see what we see," Yuhas suggested.

The massive group did just that, following the wide, dirt path illuminated by the moon.

A quarter of a mile later, across the new pedestrian bridge over Interstate 95, a few head lights went on and clamor bubbled along the path farther east.

Yuhas took what came, and still found ways to educate the group on the history of the pine forest, the early settlers and the shining sights illuminated in the night sky.

When astronomer Bernie Reim, a columnist for this section, made himself known at the bridge over the Kennebunk River, Yuhas drew the crowd around Reim for a 10-minute talk about planets and stars.

Jupiter was mistaken for a star the way it shown as bright as the nearly full moon, but the "King of the Planets, which is surrounded by four large moons, will be visible by binoculars this month, Reim told a hushed crowd.

"As I said, we're all out here learning from each other, and here with us is an astronomer," a delighted Yuhas said.

Then Andrews encouraged the entire group to push on to Limerick Road in Arundel, creating an hour-long walk into a robust two-hour hike. The majority of the 40 night walkers went the distance.

The entire experience, loosely organized as it was, delighted Nancy Niven of Saco, who recently moved from Richmond.

"I learned about this hike on (a Southern Maine Medical Center) sign," she said. "I went on the website and looked up the maps.

"I haven't used it, but it's great. Once I realized it was there by Thornton Academy, I'll use it more. I learned how wonderful off-road bike trails are in Burlington, Vt., and Bellingham, Wash., where there is a very extensive trail network that connects cities."

Maine is following suit.

Andrews has been guiding the Eastern Trail's moonlight walks for a decade, and in 2011 the Eastern Trail Alliance hosted 17 such walks. This year, 14 have been held and more will follow before 2013, according to the Alliance.

In addition, events held by other groups grew this year on the two longer sections of trail. The Kennebunk-to-Biddeford section grew to 6.2 continuous miles because of the I-95 bridge. And the section from Saco to Scarborough that runs across the marsh expanded to 8.5 continuous miles because of the new Route 1 bridge, which is named after Andrews.

In 2012, there were 15 organized events along the trail, including 5K runs, a triathlon and a half marathon, up from eight last year, according to the alliance.

"My sense would be every day the bridges have brought more visibility to the trail, and that's probably planted the seed in people's minds that there is this great off-road space that can be used without worry of being safe on the street," said Scott Marcoux, spokesman for the Eastern Trail Alliance.

(Continued on page 2)

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Additional Photos

click image to enlarge

Silhouetted hikers don’t really feel they’re in the dark while following their leader on a nocturnal walk along the Eastern Trail.

Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

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Jeremy Gray of Saco walks the trail with his children, 5-year-old Kayleigh and 6-year-old Faegan.

Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

 


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