New Report Recommends Converting 31 Miles of Old Railroad Tracks Into A Paved Recreational Biking/Walking Trail. Many locals are in support of the plan.
The Mountain Division Rail Use Advisory Council wants a new future for a corridor of inactive railroad tracks that run through Oxford and Cumberland Counties. The rail line is owned by the state of Maine. After spending seven months studying different scenarios of what could be done with the old rail line, the group is recommending that the state create a 10’ wide paved bicycle and pedestrian trail until such time as a rail becomes feasible again.
Council Chair Paul Schumacher, who also serves as Executive Director of Southern Maine Planning and Development Commission (SMPDC) says, “There was nearly unanimous approval for a paved bike route with winter snowmobile access along the corridor. These recommendations were strongly supported at a large public meeting and in written public comments. The Council believes a new recreation trail is the best use of the corridor and the benefits of public access to the trail will be a major economic driver for tourism and recreation in the region.”
It isn't just local businesses that will benefit. Locals will also benefit from a safe place to go for a walk with their children, or dogs, or ride a bike without being on the road and without the physical challenge that some of the hiking trails can bring.
David and Heather Newman, owners of The Local Gear in Cornish said "We are excited about this project. Maine is behind many states when it comes to rail trails and it's great to see plans to develop and connect more trails throughout the area. Aside from the boost in tourism a good trail brings, a question we hear almost daily at the store is "Where is a safe place to ride nearby?" People don't want to ride on the road, especially with younger children, and having a local trail with a paved surface is key to providing a safe, accessible multi-use space the entire community can enjoy."
Aside from the boost in tourism a good trail brings, a question we hear almost daily at the store is "Where is a safe place to ride nearby?" People don't want to ride on the road, especially with younger children, and having a local trail with a paved surface is key to providing a safe, accessible multi-use space the entire community can enjoy." - David Newman, The Local Gear
The Commissioner of Maine Department of Transportation established the 12-member Mountain Division Rail Use Advisory Council in 2021 to study the future of the inactive rail line. David Kinsman, an outdoor enthusiast and president of the Mountain Division Alliance, says, “The legislature needs to approve funding for engineering and construction and I am optimistic that our state leaders will recognize the tremendous benefit of this potential project.”
The Legislature goes back into session in January 2023.
Maine Senator Richard A. Bennett (R, Oxford), who introduced the legislation that created the Rail Council, says, “Converting this dilapidated, wasting asset to a usable trail will provide many economic and health benefits to western Maine. Property values near the trail will rise. Small businesses will benefit from the tourism of cyclists, runners, and snowmobilers. And most importantly, local people -- even the mobility impaired -- will have a safe place to enjoy the outdoors and the beauty of the region.” Bennett says the Council’s recommendation is being reviewed by the Maine Department of Transportation. Bennett went on to say that he’s looking forward to championing the plan in the 131st Legislature with the hope that construction could begin within a couple of years.
By Cristina Forsyth
*Read the full report at SMPDC.org