The proposed Casco Bay Trail’s southern end would connect to Portland’s Eastern Promenade, a popular haven for bicyclists and dog walkers in the region. Kristen McNerney / The Forecaster

A vision for a paved bike and pedestrian path from Portland to Yarmouth and beyond  is coming into focus as towns begin to consider advocating for a state committee that would explore transforming 26 miles of an unused rail line into the trail.

Yarmouth has formally voted to support the formation of the committee, and North Yarmouth, Freeport and Falmouth are set to vote shortly.

Broken lines show where paved bike and pedestrian paths would be constructed to connect to trails already in use. Contributed / Casco Bay Trail Alliance

In order for the trail to be considered, the rail company Genesee and Wyoming must formally abandon an easement maintained at no cost through MaineDOT, although the rail hasn’t been in use since 2015. The state would then be able to seek input through an advisory council on future uses for the land.

The Casco Bay Trail Alliance, spearheading the plan for the 26-mile multi-use path that would connect 13 cities and towns. has taken advantage of state legislation passed last month that allows communities along a state-owned rail corridor to petition MaineDOT for the creation of a rail corridor advisory council. The council would weigh options for the future use of the corridor.

The Yarmouth Town Council voted 6-0 July 15 on a resolution urging MaineDOT to  accept the abandonment of the easement and to create the advisory council. It also petitions DOT to make sure all voices are heard should the state decide to extend or amend the easement.

The Falmouth Town Council will vote on the resolution July 26. The Casco Bay Trail Alliance will present their suggested resolution to the Cumberland Town Council July 26 and has plans to address the Portland City Council as well.

Yarmouth resident Dan Ostrye, former chairperson of the town’s Bike and Pedestrian Committee, said the trail would be “a very important addition to the community.”

The unused rail line already gets a lot of foot traffic, he said.

Town Council Chairwoman April Humphrey said she has received over 50 emails from residents in support of the project.

The rail corridor advisory council would seek input from all parties, said Councilor Rob Waeldner, including railroad stakeholders who have met the idea with some amount of hostility.

Tony Donovan, managing director of the Maine Rail Transit Coalition and a Portland resident, said he believes the advisory council would looking to tear up the railroad and that the property would do more good as a future passenger line than as a trail.

State law allowing for the rail corridor use advisory council clarifies that bike paths or trails can be considered as long as “any nonrail use is considered by the council to be interim in nature and all such rail corridors are preserved for future rail use.”

Emma Bond, a member of the Casco Bay Trail Alliance Board of Directors,  emphasized that the alliance’s use of the term “trail until rail” alludes to the idea of the idle railroad being put to use while there are no active freight or passenger lines along the corridor.

Falmouth town councilors were supportive of the advisory council as a first step, but held off vote on the trail alliance’s resolution to give the council and the public more time to discuss it.

“As a matter of principle, I think this is a really cool idea,” Chairwoman Amy Kuhn said. “I’d like to have the opportunity to support the advisory committee’s investigation of how this would work and what it would serve.”

The portion of the path from Portland to Yarmouth is just one component of the Casco Bay Trail network, which proposes to connect Yarmouth with Lewiston-Auburn to the west along the rest of the DOT property and with Brunswick to the east. Other towns, including North Yarmouth and Freeport, would be impacted as well. North Yarmuth and Freeport were scheduled to vote on the resolution to establish the rail use advisory council July 20, after The  Forecaster’s deadline.

The rail corridor use advisory council would consist of nine to 14 members appointed by the state transportation commissioner and would include those with both rail and bicycle or pedestrian interests.

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