As part of the Eastern Trail, a bridge will be built over this section of the Nonesuch River. Eastern Trail Alliance

The Eastern Trail has completed the final trail easement for the “Close the Gap” campaign to connect Scarborough and South Portland.

“It will open up a little over a mile and a half of incredibly beautiful area that people haven’t really had a chance to see because there hasn’t been a connecting trail,” said Jon Kachmar, executive director of The Eastern Trail Alliance and Management District. “And maybe even most importantly, it’ll take the current trail off road in busy traffic and less than ideal conditions.”

The Eastern Trail runs from the Piscataqua River in Kittery at the New Hampshire border and ends in South Portland. It is a nature-based recreation and transportation route built and maintained by the Eastern Trail Alliance. It is part of the East Coast Greenway that runs 3,000 miles from Maine to Florida. Over 251,000 people visit the trail annually in Maine, spending on average $200 per individual on the path.

There is currently a 1.6-mile gap between Scarborough and South Portland on the trail. State and federal funds of $5.5 million as well as private funding are in place to build a connecting trail. Construction has been delayed thus far as the state and federal funds require the completion of all trail easements.

Now, the campaign to “Close the Gap” is nearing an end as the final trail easement has been secured with a private landowner. The project to build the connecting trail is expected to go out to construction bidding by Jan. 30. The trail is expected to take 18-24 months to complete.

“There’s been many people involved before me and there’s been lots of people working on this from the town of Scarborough, from [the] Maine Department of Transportation, from The Eastern Trail,” said Kachmar. “It’s been a real group effort and a long time coming but we’re hugely excited to be able to open up this trail to hundreds of thousands of people who’ll eventually come through it.”

The project will create an entirely off-road, 16-mile path between Bug Light in South Portland to Thornton Academy in Saco. The trail will include a bridge over the Pan Am Railways track near Pleasant Hill Road and a bridge over the Nonesuch River.

The trail has seen significant support from municipal and state government, as well as corporate and nonprofit partners, and individual donors. The Maine Department of Transportation donated $2.05 million. MDOT considers it the “highest priority” trail-related project in the state. The Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System has committed $1.1 million.

The Town of Scarborough and the City of South Portland contributed $287,000. Town and Country Federal Credit Union donated $100,000. The same amount came from the Eastern Trail Alliance with $50,000 to match $50,000 from private donors. Further contributions came from the Caiazzo family of Scarborough, the Thompson family of South Portland, WEX, the Quimby Family Foundation, Avangrid, IDEXX, the Morton Kelly Charitable Fund, Davis Conservation Foundation, proceeds from the John Andrews Memorial 5k, and many additional private donations.

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