PORTLAND — A trail project that has been in the works since 2007 will come to completion on Oct. 13 when the final eight-mile section is designated.
The 28-mile Sebago to the Sea Trail, which can be used for hiking, running or biking, connects six towns and cities – Portland, Falmouth, Westbrook, Gorham, Standish and Windham – and provides access to a contiguous trail directly from Portland Water District land in Windham to East End Beach in Portland.
Plans for the trail sprouted in 2007 when the Presumpscot River Watershed Coalition, a combination of municipalities, nonprofits, regional land trusts and trail groups, started discussing local trail systems.
“The group had been talking about how amazing a regional trail within the Presumpscot River watershed could be,” said Tania Neuschafer, manager of the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust. “One trail that could follow all the way from Sebago Lake to Casco Bay.”
After that meeting, the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust took the lead in the development of the trail and got to work securing access to land, with a goal of completing the project within three to five years.
“We spent a lot of time early on assessing what’s out there and what would make the most accommodating trail corridor for a contiguous trail,” Neuschafer said.
In the first year of work the group completed work connecting a trail on Portland Water District land to the Mountain Division Trail, which begins at Otter Pond in Standish and ends in Westbrook.
The next major challenge was connecting the Mountain Division Trail to Portland Trails’ existing network of trails. The only way to make the connection was to construct a trail section next to an existing rail bed, but securing funding for that project proved difficult and trail builders were forced to improvise.
“Right now Westbrook, Windham and the Mountain Division Alliance are seeking funding to create a trail beside the rail bed in that corridor. That project might take about four years; it has been engineered, but in the meantime the Department of Transportation, who owns the corridor, is going to allow for pedestrians to walk on the inactive rail bed. But right in this moment, that rail bed is still closed,” Neuschafer said.
She said that she expects pedestrian access to that area to be granted in the spring but for now, trail users may paddle a five mile stretch of the Presumpscot River to connect back up with the trail in downtown Westbrook, which connects to the existing network of trails in Portland.
Jamie Parker, trails manager for Portland Trails, said that when Portland Trails heard about the Sebago to the Sea Trail, it was very eager to continue the creation of a regional web of trails.
“It’s mutually beneficial as it helps create this regional link, but it also creates some missing elements to the Portland Trail system,” he said. “We knew that the the trail would likely overlap with some of our trails and we might have to build some new sections, so we came up with a route that everyone was happy with that used some sections that we were eager to build anyway. This gave us the impetus to build those sections of trails we haven’t built yet.”
The eight-mile Portland section of the trail starts along the Presumpscot River and East Bridge Street in Westbrook and continues onto city land near the municipal golf course and then works its way toward East End Beach. In order to complete these sections there were two new sections that had to be connected.
Neuschafer said that while there were challenges, the partnership created by the construction of this trail benefits regional conservation efforts.
“We functioned by consensus and (the group) helped us forge partnerships with each other that will benefit the region in other ways, specifically for land preservation and water-quality monitoring,” she said.
The celebration of the completion of the trail will happen at East End Beach on Oct. 13 at noon. It will feature an eight-mile run at 9 a.m., a 1 1/2-hour bike ride starting at 10 a.m., and music by the Jerks of Grass at noon.
The Sebago to the Sea Trail connects six towns and cities and provides a contiguous trail between Sebago Lake and Casco Bay. The 28-mile trail is open to all sorts of outdoor activities, including hiking and biking.