A bobcat was captured on camera in the Eastern Trail gap in 2021. Contributed / Noah Perlut

Findings of a six-year study of the wildlife living and feeding in the 1.6-mile gap of the Eastern Trail between Wainwright Recreation Complex in South Portland and Nonesuch River in Scarborough will be presented next week.

On Tuesday, students in University of New England Professor Noah Perlut’s Terrestrial Wildlife class will discuss their GapTracks Project at an event organized by the Scarborough Land Trust. The project uncovered trends in the animal population, ratios of predators to prey and even some lighter moments, like a fox climbing a tree and a fisher taking an unusual daytime walk.

“As part of the class, students do a ton of work from scoring pictures to going through and assessing data,” Perlut said Monday. “We are in the later stages right now of that analysis and that’s all in preparation for our presentation.”

The presentation will cover 14 different questions and topics related to data collected from the students’ analysis of video and photos taken in the gap and their site visits to track the more than 60 species that have been recorded.

“Each student in class has picked a question and they are tasked with taking the data, analyzing it … and including some pictures or videos that illustrate the behavior behind the question,” Perlut said. “For example, one question might be, ‘Does raccoon abundance change across years?'”

The path to close the gap on the Eastern Trail in Scarborough and South Portland. Contributed / Eastern Trail Alliance

The Friends of Scarborough Marsh group, which recently merged with the land trust, has partnered with the GapTracks Project, helping provide six wildlife cameras essential to the project. Reports to that group have been routine but the land trust is putting an emphasis on engaging with community members.


Closing the gap

“People are very interested in the trail and the Close the Gap project,” said Andrew Mackie, director of the land trust. “We thought it was a good thing to have that public interface with science and information.”

When the Close the Gap project is complete, the Eastern Trail will provide 16 continuous off-road miles from Saco to South Portland, but it has hit several speed bumps. First, the pandemic hit in 2020 and put the project on the back burner. Then, while a plan was taking shape to build a trail bridge across Pan Am Railways tracks in the gap in Scarborough, the railroad was sold to CSX and bridge discussions had to restart.

Scarborough Town Manager Tom Hall said the town was scheduled to meet with CSX on Wednesday, after this newspaper’s deadline, to discuss an easement for the bridge. He said he was hopeful it will be “a watershed moment.”

“The plans and specifications are 99% done,” Hall said on Tuesday. “Once we secure the final easement, we’ll move through the final permitting.”

Half the cost of the estimated $4.1 million Close the Gap project is being covered by the Maine Department of Transportation, with another $1.1 million from the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System. South Portland and Scarborough are kicking in a total of $287,000 and community organizations and businesses, such as the Eastern Trail Alliance, are pitching in for the rest.


“It’s been a long time coming,” Hall said.

Delay’s silver lining

The GapTracks project initially was designed to have three, two-year stages of pre-, mid- and post-construction analysis. Instead, because of the Close the Gap delay, that first phase has lasted six years. The silver lining in the delay is in the amount of data the project has uncovered.

Numerous turkey have been spotted during the GapTracks project. Contributed / Noah Perlut

“We are looking at data in ways I was not expecting,” Perlut said. “For example, we are looking at how populations are changing over time. Students are currently analyzing temporal changes in raccoon, deer and fox populations, as well as the relative ratio of predators and prey.”

Eden Morris, a UNE sophomore majoring in animal behavior, said fishers, foxes and raccoons were some animals she was most excited to see.

“Seeing (the fisher) walk across all the logs and just stop and look at the camera, that was pretty exciting to see because you normally see them at night,” Morris said.


Another exciting moment for her came when a red fox climbed halfway up a tree.

“I didn’t realize they could do that,” she said.

Fenya Grew, a senior animal behavior major, said going into the project she was more knowledgeable about birds, so seeing mammals in action was educational.

Porcupines and whistle pigs

“I saw a baby porcupine, which is maybe one of the cutest things I’ve ever seen in my life,” Grew said. “I also like just seeing what is in the woods, because I’ve grown up in New England (and) I’ve always been interested in what lives here. You don’t always get to see things like skunks and porcupines and whistle pigs (groundhogs).”

Both students said going to the gap, setting up cameras and analyzing animal tracks in person were some of their favorite parts of the project. They are experiences they said will come in handy in the future.


UNE student Eden Morris said spotting a fisher in the daytime was a favorite sighting while working on the GapTracks project. Contributed / Noah Perlut

“Setting up cameras, identifying bird songs and blurry pictures, entering data,” Morris said. “I think this is going to be very helpful for me in figuring out what different jobs I want to do and having a solid resume.”

Grew said the opportunity to collaborate with students with different interests and expertise has been eye-opening.

“There are different people in our class who know really interesting things,” Grew said. “There’s a girl in class who specializes in rodents, so I went to her for a lot of information, and then people will ask me questions about birds. I thought it was really cool being able to share information like that.”

Giving students hands-on experience that they can take with them in future endeavors is invaluable, Perlut said.

“As both a researcher and a teacher, I love the opportunity to share this with students,” he said. “They can have this experience when they go out into the world and then hopefully apply it more broadly.”

The GapTracks presentation will take place at the Public Safety Building on Route 1 in Scarborough on April 23 at 7 p.m. The event is free to attend but registration is encouraged. To register, and for more information on the event, go to scarboroughlandtrust.org/events.

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