CAPE ELIZABETH — What started as a weeklong trail rehab of Winnick Woods has turned into a collaborative effort to expand the trail network by about a half-mile.

The 71-acre parcel off of Sawyer Road was donated to the town by Alice Larrea in the 1990s for preservation in memory of her family, the Winnicks.

Today, the open space is used for an array of recreational activities, including hiking, biking, snowshoeing, cross-country skiing and bird watching.

The Conservation Committee will hold a ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially unveil recent improvements to the Winnick Woods trails on Monday, Aug. 20, at 6 p.m.

Phase 1 of the trail work took place in June, according to Conservation Committee Chairman Jim Tasse, and consisted of leveling the trails to eliminate roots and improve drainage. 

“It was difficult for people to even walk on,” Tasse said. “(The work we did) makes it safer and a lot easier for low-skilled bike riders to go out and try.”

Phase two of the project was building the new trail, which branches off the existing path. The effort was spearheaded by the Bicycle Coalition of Maine, where Tasse is also a member, and Gorham Bike & Ski owner Jamie Wright, in collaboration with the town. 

Bethel-based trail builder Jeremy Nellis was also instrumental in the work, navigating the winding pathway in his excavator.

“We spent a full day just clearing the brush,” Nellis said. “It was like a jungle over here.” 

Tasse said Cape Elizabeth High School and middle school students also have been working on the trail.

“The long-term plan is to get these kids engaged enough and psyched enough so that, if we continue to raise money, we could have an ongoing trail crew out here helping to maintain the Cape Elizabeth trails and pitch in on projects like this,” he said. 

Once finished, Tasse said the goal is for the trail, which traverses both meadow and forest, to blend in with its surroundings so bikers and pedestrians will feel that they’re really “immersed” in Winnick Woods’ natural beauty. 

“It’s more beautiful in here than I expected it to be,” he said. “When we’re done, we don’t want people to see the signs of construction.”

Like the rest of the trail network, the new addition is built for everyone, but Tasse said it’s especially great for bikers. 

“What we’re trying to do with the new trail is emphasize accessibility and try to get it more usable by more people with lower skill levels,” he said. “We want to help people discover the sport of mountain biking, but also enjoy the beautiful open space of Cape Elizabeth.”

Jocelyn Van Saun can be reached at 781-3661, ext. 183 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @JocelynVanSaun.

Jim Tasse, left, and Jeremy Nellis stand at the head of a new, multi-use half-mile trail being constructed in Winnick Woods.