Eastern Trail Executive Director Jon Kachmar said federal pandemic relief programs have provided a financial lifeline at a time when traditional fundraisers haven’t been possible. Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission administered about $40 million in funding to businesses and entities in York, Cumberland and Oxford counties. Courtesy Photo

SACO — With another round of Paycheck Protection Program grants and loans on tap, some York County nonprofits and businesses say it and various other federal COVID-19 relief programs have been a lifeline.

For local organizations like the Eastern Trail, the money received has been a big help. With fundraisers on the back burner in  2020, the nonprofit Eastern Trail experienced more than $100,000 in losses due to COVID-19, estimates Executive Director Jon Kachmar.

Kachmar said the Eastern Trail received $48,500 in federal funds.

“The funding we received was a ‘lifeline’ that will help us get back up and running,” he said. “We ended up in a good place with help from them at a time when outdoor recreation is more important than ever.”

In 2018, Kachmar said 250,000 people used the Eastern Trail. With data sources indicating the use of outdoor spaces and trails is three times more than usual, Kachmar estimated the 21-mile trail system had 750,000 users in 2020.

Bob Hamblen of the Eastern Trail Alliance that oversees trail operations, said without the grant the organization received, belt tightening would have been necessary.

“We are a volunteer-driven organization, and rather light on staff,” said Hamblen. Besides Kachmar, there is a part-time office manager, and the organization contracts  about 10 hours a week for IT services. “Maintaining an office in the North Dam Mill and ensuring that obligations are met is about all we can or want to handle on an annual basis,” said Hamblen.

Absent the federal funding, Hamblen said he expects a cutback in hours would have been considered.

Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission was among the organizations tasked with administering the federal funds — in all, dispersing more than $40 million through the programs in 39 municipalities in York, Cumberland and Oxford counties. SMPDC participated in the Maine Economic Recovery Grant Program; The Maine Tourism, Hospitality and Retail Recovery Grant Program; and Community Development Block Grant Micro-Enterprise Forgivable Loan Program.

Henry Ares, the co-owner of Pepperell Cove in Kittery Point,  said the funds they received helped Bistro 1828 stay open this winter. “Like most restaurants, the pandemic has forced us to lay off some of our staff,” said Ares. “While we are operating at a reduced capacity, the Maine Economic Recovery Grant Program is helping us continue to serve the community. We also invested in an air filtration system that is proven to fight COVID-19, and that helps diners and staff feel safer.”

SMPDC Executive Director Paul Schumacher said the Micro-Enterprise Forgivable Loan Program continues to disburse grants up to $5,000 open to low-moderate income business owners who have fewer than six employees, and that the agency also administers immediate low interest loans. He said he Small Business Administration and the Treasury Department are reviving the Paycheck Protection Program — noting borrowers must apply through a participating lender. All applications must be submitted and approved by March 31.

Schumacher reflected on the 700 applications that resulted in $40 million in COVID-19 relief dollars processed by the agency in 2020.

“I was struck by the tremendous need for this support and by the determination of the businesses to fight their way through this pandemic,” said Schumacher.

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