A project that aims to build a continuous trail connecting the Casco Bay to Sebago Lake is one of only 12 projects in New England, New York and New Jersey that will receive assistance from the National Park Service next year.
The Sebago to the Sea project is being spearheaded by the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust, but also involves several private and public stakeholders from Standish to Portland, including Portland Trails.
Presumpscot Regional Land Trust Manager Tanya Neuschafer, who is coordinating the project, said Julie Isbill of the NPS Rivers and Trails Program will provide technical expertise to build a regional trail group in the Standish, Windham and Gorham areas.
Expertise is especially needed in that area, she said, because much of the trail between Portland and Windham is mostly built. Isbill will be working closely with the Portland Water District, the town of Standish and Mountain Trail Alliance, which currently has a trail in that area, to build up the area northwest of Westbrook.
“The National Park Service is proud to support such capable partners and (is) eager to help contribute Sebago to Sea Trail initiative,” Isbill said in a press release.
While Isbill will also be helping the group market itself and conduct public outreach, Neuschafer said the knowledge Isbill brings to the table will be significantly helpful. “The expertise alone is of tremendous value,” she said.
Land Trust President Richard Curtis said support from the NPS will allow better coordination of the stakeholders and allow the group to pinpoint the precise connections that need to be made.
Sebago Lake is about 26 miles – as a crow flies – from Casco Bay. Curtis estimates more than half of the trails needed already exist, but he expects the group will have to approach private landowners to make some key connections.
“The hardest part is knowing where the trail runs and where it is going to cross people’s land,” he said. “We know for a fact some people aren’t going to be very agreeable to that, and so we’ll just have to reroute the trail until we find a way.”
Once complete, Curtis said the trail will provide not only recreational opportunities, but will also allow those who commute on bicycles to have a safe alternative to roads. Tentacles for the planned trail, some of which will be paved, are expected to reach into Portland, Falmouth, Westbrook, Windham, Gorham and Standish.
“When I drive to work, I see people bicyling along the side of the road, and that really can’t be all that pleasant,” he said. “Wouldn’t they much bicycle along a trail or path through the woods or along the river.”
Neuschafer said the project will also bring numerous other benefits, including greater protection of the Presumpscot watershed, land conservation and better collaboration between different municipalities and private groups.
“There will be numerous indirect benefits,” she said.
The NPS will assist the project for the next year, but the group can reapply for assistance for an additional year. Through the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Association, the NPS helped more than 100 communities leverage $13 million in funds for targeted projects in 2007-08.