Jon Kachmar, executive director of the Eastern Trail Alliance, stands on a culvert at West Brook that runs under the next phase of the off-road trail expansion. The ultimate goal is to have a trail from Portland to Kittery, eventually connecting to the proposed 3,000-mile East Coast Greenway envisioned to link Key West, Florida, to Calais via off-road trails. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Jon Kachmar is working on the ultimate conservation juggling act: Getting three significant new sections built on the Eastern Trail in southern Maine. 

Expansion of the trail – envisioned as a 50-mile, off-road trail upon completion – has stalled in the past decade, but Kachmar believes the Eastern Trail Alliance has a shot at completing another 15.7 miles of the trail in the next 10 years. That would extend it to 37 miles, and connect three different existing sections.

“There will definitely be momentum moving forward,” said Kachmar, executive director of the Eastern Trail Alliance. “There’s no doubt about it. It is a unique time. Right now there is an unprecedented amount of federal money for infrastructure for things that will benefit the public. We fit a lot of those qualifications for that money. I’m pretty optimistic.”

The Eastern Trail is the southern Maine section of the proposed 3,000-mile East Coast Greenway envisioned to link Key West, Florida, to Calais via off-road trails. In the past 20 years, 20.9 miles of the trail have been built in Maine across three sections from South Portland to West Kennebunk.

West Brook, dammed by beavers, flows under the next phase of the Eastern Trail in North Berwick, which will be built possibly within the next five years. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Next on tap is “The Gap” section that would connect the Scarborough Marsh and South Portland sections with a 1.6-mile stretch that has been held up since 2017 because of negotiations on an easement on private land, Kachmar said. He believes the negotiations are close to reaching a conclusion.

Construction could begin as early as next spring on the long-awaited connector, Kachmar said. Four years ago Maine Department of Transportation allocated $5 million for the section between Black Point Road in Scarborough and Wainwright Field off Highland Avenue in South Portland.


Federal money allocated specifically for bicycle and pedestrian projects has increased significantly from about $2 million in fiscal year 2021 to more than $4 million this fiscal year, according to the Maine DOT. The increase in federal funding is directly related to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal that was signed into law in November 2021, said Paul Merrill, director of communications for MDOT.

The increase in federal funds comes at a time where there’s high energy around building trails in Maine. 

A recent study released by the Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission conducted by Camoin Associates showed that the outdoor recreation industry is responsible for attracting 5.5 million visitors to southern Maine and contributing $105 million to the regional gross domestic product. The report cited among other high-ticket amenities: the Eastern Trail.

In May, the Eastern Trail Alliance received $700,000 in federal funds to pay for 80 percent of a feasibility study to help design the next 11 miles of the trail from Kennebunk to North Berwick. With the $210,000 match the Alliance already raised, that study will be done in 2023. The $910,000 feasibility study soon will be put out to bid by Kachmar.

Then the Alliance will shift into fundraising mode to build that section. Any federal funds for the trail require a 20% match of private money. That project is estimated at $14 million for the engineering design and construction. 

But Kachmar remains optimistic this section will go quicker than The Gap section, despite the fact it’s seven times longer. That’s because it’s nearly all on land owned by Unitil gas company, so there’s no need to negotiate easements with private landowners. 


“In the best-case scenario, I think we could build it in five years,” he said. “Hopefully in the next couple of years we will build four to five miles of it.”

The Alliance recently received an anonymous donation for $130,000 to help complete two feasibility studies for the far-southern section from North Berwick to Kittery that would span roughly 16 to 19 miles, depending on the route it takes.

In addition, there is the proposed Biddeford-Saco section of the trail – a 3-mile path last estimated at about $10-12 million for the engineering design and construction. It’s a big price tag for a short section, but the off-road trail there runs through an urban setting and over the Saco River. It would connect two long sections of the trail that already exist. Here again the trail likely would use the gas line corridor, as well as municipal city properties, all of which makes the easements easier to line up, Kachmar said.

Jon Kachmar, executive director of the Eastern Trail Alliance, walks along the next phase of the off-road trail. He says the expansion effort comes at a good time. “Right now there is an unprecedented amount of federal money for infrastructure for things that will benefit the public. We fit a lot of those qualifications for that money. I’m pretty optimistic.” Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The trail has not been expanded in 10 years, yet in the coming decade much of the rest of the trail could be built.

“I think 10 years is a good goal, if things line up,” said Kachmar. “Ironically, the pandemic helped to bring the value of these trails to the forefront. People clearly have not forgotten that. We have seen record use of our trails. That was a silver lining (to the pandemic) for sure.”

It’s good news to the roughly quarter of a million people who use the trail annually – because building it has gone in fits and starts.


“I’ve been following it for 20 years,” said Meg MacLeod of South Portland as she and her husband, Dan, prepared to bike the trail on a warm Saturday in October. “Absolutely I would ride the (Kennebunk section south). I used to ride over the Scarborough Marsh before the trail was built there. We ride 20 miles, or 30 miles on a good day.”

John and Lisa Lloyd, who recently moved from New Hampshire to South Berwick, had the exact same response.

“Oh absolutely,” John Lloyd said. “We came up here to ride the trail today for the first time to try it. We rode the rail trails in New Hampshire when we lived there.”

“We don’t like to ride on the roads. We feel too exposed,” Lisa Lloyd added. 

Whitney Petit was surprised but excited to learn about the trail’s expected growth, which she considered as she pushed her baby in a stroller along the trail in Arundel. 

“This section is always so busy in the summer,” Petit said. “I probably wouldn’t go all the way to North Berwick but I would use it in Wells.”

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