Multiuse trail may get federal funds

Bangor Daily News August 24, 2005

Calais project could become national model
BY KATHERINE CASSIDY OF THE NEWS STAFF

MACHIAS The multiyear task of converting the Calals Branch railbed corridor to a multiuse trail between Ellsworth in
Hancock Coun- Down East ty and Pembroke in Washington County could become a national pilot project if federal funds are used.
That was the announcement on Tuesday by David Cole, the Maine Department of Transportation commissioner, to a group of 33 state employees, area selectmen and planners, law enforcement representatives and recreation-minded residents.
Fifteen years after the unused railbed was first proposed as a trail, and one month after Gov. John Baldacci endorsed the Idea, the DOT’s advisory planning committee convened for the first time to tackle exactly how to make that happen.
Snowmobilers and ATV-users in both Hancock and Washington counties have been calling for the railbed’s conversion for years. But federal funds have never been used for a trail that mixes ATVs with hikers, cyclists and equestrians.
This trail, however, could be different.
“Federal money has historically not been available for trails that allow ATVs,” Cole told the group gathered at the University of Maine at Machias.
“But they [federal planners] are receptive to the idea of this trail being a pilot project, a first in the country provided it is done safely, and Is consistently monitored.”
Cole wants the committee to meet every two weeks until Thanksgiving to prepare a “viable business plan” for the Legislature to consider starting in January.
Cole wouldn’t put a dollar figure on the 87-mile project, other than saying it would cost “about $70,000 per mile” to take up the steel tracks and ties.
“Maybe that’s six or seven million dollars, but you know it would end up more,” Cole said. “We are looking for a plan that suggests not just how to fund a trail, but how to manage and maintain it, too.”
A high priority voiced last month in Machias by Baldacci during his announcement would be preserving the corridor for future rail use, If the interest in freight or passenger
service ever returns Down East. Meanwhile, the trail could
accommodate both ATVs and nonmotored walkers, birders, cyclists and horse riders. In winter, shared use would make the trail available for both cross country skiers and snowmobilers.
Rep. Ed Dugay, D-Cherryfield, noted that state bond money could be sought to finance the trail, if it’s determined that the use of federal funds would restrict ATV users on the trail, after all.
“Is there a plan to protect the snowmobilers and ATVs, If we can’t use the federal money?” Dugay asked.
Regardless of whether the trail is supported by state or federal money, Cole said, safety
needs to be considered !oremost. That, and the potential economic gain that the state, municipalities and the region could all share in.
“It’s up to this group to decide If we want to be a pilot project with the federal funds or not,” Cole said. “If the federal funding turns out to be too restrictive, then we can do state bond ftmcls.
“But anyone putting money Into this wants to see that it provides some economic return.”
Several topics need to be tackled before the trail plan is rolled out to both the Legislature and the public. Broadly, they are the trail’s management, maintenance and design, plus DOT’s outreach to the general puhti and the municipalities along the way.

BANGOR DAILY NEWS PHOTO BY KATHERINE CASSIDY
Stephanie Clement (right) of Friends of Acadia and Polly Ceckier (center) of Hancock listen to Michele Gagnon (left), city planner for Ellsworth, at a Maine Department of Transportation meeting In Machais to discuss turning 87 miles of the unused Calais Branch railway into a trail between Ellsworth andPembroke.