SCARBOROUGH — The Eastern Trail Alliance is just under $600,000 away from starting a 1.6-mile Close the Gap project.
The alliance has already raised more than $3.2 million towards the $3.8 million project, closing in on the funding needed to make the proposal a reality. The funding must be in place before construction can begin. Alliance representatives said construction won’t begin until 2018.
Close the Gap would connect the trail in South Portland to Scarborough, and bridging the area would create a 16-mile continuous off-road trail from Bug Light in South Portland to downtown Saco.
The 1.6 miles would link the Wainwright Recreation Complex in South Portland and a section of trail in Scarborough that ends at the Nonesuch River, near Eastern Road.
Cyclists and pedestrians now have to traverse the streets of Gary Marietta Way, Highland Avenue, Black Point Road and Eastern Road to continue on the trail.
Carole Brush, executive director of the Eastern Trail Alliance, said the surface of the new section will be made of stone dust. The funding would pay for two bridges in Scarborough – one over the Nonesuch River off Eastern Road and another that would cross the Pan Am Railways track near Pleasant Hill Road.
Diana Nelson, a volunteer with ETA and director of communications at Black Fly Media, said the company has published drone video of the Eastern Trail that includes aerials of the land and river where the two bridges will be built. The 51-second video can be viewed at https://vimeo.com/191156005.
According to Brush, funding includes $1.55 million from the Maine Department of Transportation and $1.1 million from the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System. Town and Country Federal Credit Union donated $100,000 in December for the project. The Eastern Trail Alliance has matched $50,000 in donations, for a total contribution of $100,000. Other large donations have come from the town of Scarborough ($216,000), WEX ($25,000), Avangrid ($25,000) and the Thompson family ($25,000).
Donations may be made at active.com/donate/closegap.
The Eastern Trail is part of the East Coast Greenway that, when completed, would stretch approximately 2,900 miles from Calais to Key West, Florida. In southern Maine the trail is about 65 miles long, stretching from South Portland to Kittery; Brush said about one-third of the Maine trail system is complete.
She said the completed path will be significant for people who use the trail system to commute to Portland, because it will be quicker and safer.
Scarborough resident Bob Bowker, vice president of ETA, said he uses the trail system to commute to downtown Portland on his bike.
Bowker said his commute is now approximately 10 miles, but after the gap is closed it will be about 7 miles. As it stands, Bowker said some parts of his commute are pretty intense.
There is a lot of traffic on some of the roads, and he must make two left turns onto often-busy Blackpoint Road and Highland Avenue. Bowker said he is an experienced bicyclist, but could see how it would be daunting for others.
“I’ve seen people commute as far as Saco and it is tough for them,” he said.
Bowker said he expects trail traffic to increase when the gap is closed.
“It is a very critical junction. The state has stepped up and said it is one of their priority projects,” he said.
The next project for the ETA will be adding a section of trail from the Kennebunks through Wells and the Berwicks that will eventually go all the way to Kittery.
Brush said completed trails increase real estate values, enhance tourism and provide health benefits because it gets people out and exercising.
“It is a really great, safe place to take families,” Brush said. “Families can go at their own pace and not get lost.”
“I think ‘if you build it, they will come’ will prove to be true here,” Bowker said.
Carole Brush, executive director of the Eastern Trail Alliance, is working on the Alliance’s 1.6-mile Close the Gap project. Behind Brush is the Nonesuch River in Scarborough, where bridge construction is planned.
The Eastern Trail near Eastern Road in Scarborough.
Carole Brush, executive director of the Eastern Trail Alliance, walks on a section of the Eastern Trail near Eastern Road in Scarborough. Brush is working on the Alliances’s 1.6-mile Close the Gap project, also in Scarborough.