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WHEEL FUN: THE EASTERN TRAIL IN SOUTHERN MAINE — A SPECIAL KIND OF RAIL TRAIL

By Sally McMurdo | The Conway Daily Sun | June 2, 2017  

This spring, Peter and I explored the southern Maine coast from Cape Elizabeth to Cape Neddick. After our daily weekday trips from Conway to Scarborough for medical treatments, we picked places to go afterwards, depending on the weather and our energy. Sometimes, we chose a beach day at Higgins, Ferry, Wells, Crescent Beach or Kettle Cove, where we'd bird watch, sea glass hunt or just walk.

On foul weather days, we might head inland to explore. But the one place we visited the most was the Eastern Trail in Southern Maine. We especially liked the section from Black Point Road in Scarborough to Pine Point Road. There was something about walking out this rail trail across the marsh that called to us. Maybe it was the ease of the walk and later the ride, maybe it was the abundant bird life we saw or maybe it was just the constant flowing and ebbing of the tide that calmed and renewed our spirits.

The Eastern Trail is a "transportation-recreation greenway connecting Kittery in southern most Maine to Casco Bay in South Portland." Currently, it travels 65 miles from Kennebunk to Bug Light Park in South Portland. It is part of the East Coast Greenway, a 300 mile pedestrian/bike route connecting Calais, Maine and Key West, Florida. The Eastern Trail section has 22 miles of "off-road" riding on an abandoned rail corridor that is hard-packed enough to be stroller and wheelchair friendly. Other sections of the trail are "on-road" connectors to the main rail trail and wind through neighborhoods and small communities. For maps and information, go to: http://www.easterntrail.org/

Currently, the Eastern Trail Alliance is working on a $3.8 million project to "Close the Gap" between Scarborough and South Portland. There is a 1.6 mile key piece missing to connect South Portland's 5+mile Greenway and the 10+ off-road miles through Scarborough, Old Orchard Beach and Saco. This interruption sends trail users onto heavily trafficked local roads — not a safe or enjoyable experience for anyone. With the support of Maine DOT, PACTS (Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System), and other generous donors, this project is aiming for completion by 2018. Look for news of its completion.

But, I diverge. Let's go back to that special section over the Scarborough Marsh from Black Point Road to Pine Point Road. The marsh itself is remarkable. Scarborough Marsh is a 3,200-acre saltwater marsh owned by the state of Maine and managed by the state's Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife as a wildlife management area. It is Maine's largest saltwater marsh complex. As such, it supports a varied aquatic life population as well as many types of waterfowl, and even occasional seals and porpoises. It supports two oyster farms and clamming operations. As a stopover on the Atlantic Flyway, it is a great area for bird watching. The marsh is also a place frequented by kayakers, paddle boarders, and, of course, fishermen. We have seen them all in our visits to the marsh along the Eastern Trail.

Until recently, all our visits to the marsh have been on foot. We either started at the northern end, off Black Point Road, or at the southern end, off Pine Point Road. Look for green "ET" road signs to direct you to the trail heads. Both ends have adequate parking and kiosks with information and maps. From one end to the other is about 2 miles one way. If we're eager to see the marsh activity, we start at Pine Point and go about a mile. Along the way, there are benches for marsh watching and interpretative signs to give information about marsh birds and animals. If we're looking for a more protected, shady walk, we start at Black Point.

Last Wednesday, we decided to bring our bikes instead of sneakers. The weather looked promising — not too hot, rainy or cold. We started from the larger Black Point parking lot with the goal of riding at least 10 miles round trip. That doesn't sound like much, but for people who hadn't been out on their bikes this season, it was a good start. We wanted to see what lay beyond the section we knew, so we rode out with Saco as our objective.

That day, we saw more cyclists on the trail than we had seen all spring. Peter remarked that when it gets warm, bugs and bicyclists come out in droves. When it's cool, the walkers, runners and baby joggers hit the trail. Wednesday, with striped bass (stripers) coming up the coast, there were some fishermen, too, casting their lines into the marsh from the easy access of the trail and its bridges. Birdwatchers are there no matter what the weather.

Read the entire article online here.

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