YARMOUTH — The West Side Trail already connects neighborhoods, office parks and public beaches, but the town has an opportunity to win funding from Summit Natural Gas to expand the trail even farther.

An online vote could help the West Side Trail Committee earn $4,000 to extend the multi-use trail toward the School Department campus, while interconnecting the West Main Street, Hillside and Portland Street neighborhoods.

Voting concludes May 31. The top two vote-getting nonprofits will receive $4,000 each, while the remaining four finalists will receive $1,000. The online contest is part of the gas company’s annual Maine Community Giving Poll.

People can also donate to the project directly, either by visiting the Yarmouth Community Services website, www.yarmouthcommunityservices.org, or by mailing checks payable to the town of Yarmouth and referencing the West Side Trail Fund to 200 Main St., Yarmouth, ME 04096.

In addition, proceeds from this year’s Yarmouth Chili Chowder Cookoff will go to the West Side Trail expansion project. The cook-off is scheduled for 4-7 p.m. June 15 in Royal River Park.

Users of the first phase of the West Side Trail, which was originally envisioned in 1988 as part of a town-wide public access and recreation plan, can enjoy views of Casco Bay and the Royal River estuary. It’s located alongside the CMP transmission corridor, which runs from Cousins Island to Route 1.

Right now the trail is 8 miles in length. Planned work this summer includes building a new section from Hillside Street to the Applewood Farm subdivision at a cost of about $160,000, according to Dan Ostrye, the West Side Trail coordinator.

However, the trail committee is about $50,000 short of that funding goal. Ostrye hopes the remainder of the Phase 2 trail connections can be made in the next year or so, but with current construction costs he’s unsure how much that might cost.

The West Side Trail has been supported through the years by a number of local and statewide organizations, including the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, which has awarded the trail committee a $50,000 grant for Phase 2 construction.

Ostrye said the trail was conceived by the Yarmouth Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee; Yarmouth Rotary Club and the Royal River Conservation Trust were “early, enthusiastic and ongoing” supporters.

New partners for the second phase of trail building include the town and the Yarmouth Lions Club, he said. Through the years the majority of funding for the West Side Trail has come from community organizations and individual donors, Ostrye said.

He said the full expansion of the West Side Trail would extend it from West Elm Street up to the publicly accessible trail network in the Applewood Farm development.

“The expansion will connect the village itself to the already completed trail network and provide direct access to over 4,000 Yarmouth residents who live within a 20-minute walk of the expanded trail,” he said.

One thing that makes the current section of the West Trail Side unique, Ostrye said, is that mountain biking is allowed, along with other uses, including skiing or snowshoeing in winter.

In describing the trail, he said “the terrain varies widely from one end to the other, providing tranquil moments in deep forest, sunny runs through open corridor sections and some beautiful vistas of Casco Bay.”

What also makes the trail special, Ostrye said, is that it connects several town-owned open spaces, including Fels Groves Preserves, Sandy Point Beach, Camp Soci, and Tinker Field.

And, “a short ride or walk will also take you to Madeleine Point dock and beach and the Royal River Conservation Trust’s Little John Island Preserve,” he added.

While the often steep terrain prevented the first phase of the trail from being universally accessible, the second phase will be built to allow those with mobility issues to safely use the trail, Ostrye said.

The goal of Phase 2 is to provide direct access to three of the largest subdivisions in town – Oakwoods, McKearny Village and Applewood Farm – “which is a very short distance from our elementary, middle and high schools,” Ostrye said.

“This proximity means that students can access the trail for physical activity and for outdoor education (and) access to the Exit 15 Park & Ride means that residents can easily catch the METRO Breeze bus via a quick walk or ride from their house.”

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 780-9097 or [email protected]. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

Steep terrain makes the first phase of Yarmouth’s West Side Trail ideal for mountain biking and scenic views. A planned second phase would connect neighborhoods to the local school campus.

The West Side Trail in Yarmouth now runs 8 miles from Cousins Island to Route 1.

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