Sunday, May 19, 2013
PORTLAND – Five years in the making, a completed path running nearly 30 miles between Casco Bay and Sebago Lake will be celebrated Saturday.
Completing the Sebago to the Sea Trail, which opens another leg Saturday, will require paddling across a section of the Presumpscot River.
Photos by John Ewing/Staff Photographer
But, by bike or foot, you still can't get there from here.
Making the entire trek from Sebago to the Sea, as it's called, requires a 5-mile paddle on the Presumpscot River to bypass construction on the Mountain Division rail line between Westbrook and South Windham.
Once that work is finished next summer, pedestrians will be allowed to walk in the rail bed. Still, cyclists will want to stay away, said Dan Stewart, bicycle and pedestrian manager for the Maine Department of Transportation.
"It would be an unpleasant experience," he said of riding on the rail ties or trying to bike beside the tracks.
The Department of Transportation is funding the design of a paved trail next to the tracks, Stewart said. But when the plan is finished in the spring, it will be up to Westbrook and Windham to find money to build the 7-mile trail -- something that could cost about $300,000 per mile.
The replacement of steel and installation of new rail ties -- a $4 million state project that was part of a transportation bond approved in June 2010 -- was expected to be finished by now. It has taken longer because the Department of Transportation decided to use some of the money to replace a bridge on Mallison Falls Road, Stewart said.
Because the Sebago to the Sea Coalition had already introduced the paddling option, it decided to go ahead with a "soft opening" of the full trail this fall, said Tania Neuschafer, manager of the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust, the lead organization for the project.
The trail, for which planning began in 2007, has been opening in phases over the past couple of years.
An 8.5-mile stretch from Sebago Lake in Standish to Route 202 in Windham was finished in 2010. Last fall, the coalition marked the opening of 13 miles from Windham to Falmouth, which included the 5-mile paddle.
Signs will go up at the end of this week along the final 8-mile stretch, through Portland to East End Beach, where a celebration Saturday will feature a free concert by the Jerks of Grass at noon, following a group run and a bike ride.
Most of the trail existed, in some form, before Sebago to the Sea was conceived, Neuschafer said. About a quarter of the 30 miles had been cleared, while other sections were overgrown, just needed to be "spruced up" or were already well maintained, she said.
Neuschafer did not know the cost of the entire project, but said costs included labor, equipment rentals, maps and signs. Funding came from grants and in-kind donations, she said.
David Kinsman of Fryeburg, an avid bicyclist, is president of the Mountain Division Alliance, which is trying to develop a recreational trail between Fryeburg and Portland.
He said he isn't surprised that the Sebago to the Sea Trail includes a section that, at least for now, won't serve cyclists.
"I don't think Sebago to the Sea was formed around bicycles," Kinsman said. "They just wanted to make a connection from Sebago Lake to the Atlantic Ocean."
Paul Eldridge, who works at Back Bay Bicycle in Portland, has biked much of the Sebago to the Sea Trail. He said he eventually would like to see it be a continuous path between the two bodies of water, but is impressed by the work that's been done.
"It's just a work-in-progress," he said.
Despite the work that's left, Neuschafer said there's good reason to celebrate on Saturday.
The project has already achieved its more general purpose, she said: "That people within the Presumpscot watershed would use this trail and reflect on the values that the watershed offers to us."
Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at:
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For now, the Sebago to the Sea Trail from Sebago Lake comes to a halt for bicyclists and pedestrians at Mallison Dam in Windham. Cyclists describe the trail as a “work-in-progress.”