Published DateBy Tom Eastman
FRYEBURG — Approximately 35 cyclists, joggers, walkers and officials (and even one dog) attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the grand opening of the second and latest section of the Mountain Division Rail Trail Monday afternoon off Porter Road.
The new 2.5-mile section extends from Porter Road to Airport Road.
A Fryeburg Academy bus waited at the end of the line near the Eastern Slope Regional Airport for those who only wanted to cycle or jog the new section one way Monday afternoon.
Others chose to ride or run out and back. Parts of the path are sided by fencing, especially where the path goes near Route 5 or close to the tracks.
Cutting the ribbon were Dave Kinsman of the Mountain Division Alliance and Dan Stewart, bicycle and pedestrian program manager of the Maine Department of Transportation.
First to ride onto the path following the ribbon-cutting were Sally Gibson and Connie Kinsman, bicycle advocates Steve and Sally Swenson of Kearsarge, and hand cyclist Sarah Kimball of Jackson.
Also in the group were members of the Coach Bill Reilly's Fryeburg Academy cross-country team.
"This marks the completion of the of the Fryeburg section of the Mountain Division Trail," said Kinsman, president of the Mountain Division Alliance and an avid cyclist. "The first 1.5-mile section has been very well received and many people use it every day. With the additional 2.5 miles, the trail should attract even more bicyclists, walkers and runners."
Selectman Rick Eastman was one of several speakers. He said that while he is not a walker or cyclist himself, his business at Western Maine Nurseries abuts the rail corridor and new path, and he can attest that it is being heavily used.
He sees great potential for marketing the new path for bringing new visitors to Fryeburg.
"My wife works at the info center, and she says that many visitors are coming with their bikes to the center because they don't have paths like this in their hometowns. I am hoping that that the town and the Fryeburg Business Association will work together to promote this and get people to come here," said Eastman.
Eastman said he was skeptical about the project when he moved back to Fryeburg three years ago. He has since changed his perception, based on the positive response he has seen. "I have not met one person on this trail without a smile on their face. That says it all for me," said Eastman.
Town manager Sharon Jackson was among other state and local officials who praised the project, saying, "This is a fabulous day for Fryeburg and all its residents who will be using this trail."
Also speaking about the project's promise for local business and recreation was state Rep. Helen Rankin of Maine District 97 of Fryeburg, Bridgton, Hiram, Denmark and Parsonsfield.
"I was here for the dedication of the first part last year in the heavy rain, so it's nice to be here with the great weather today for this section. I agree that this will be an asset to the local economy," said Rankin, noting that the rec trail will add to such other events as the recently-held Weston's Farm Community Supper and the upcoming Fryeburg Fair.
Serving as master of ceremonies was John Weston, a member of the Fryeburg Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee.
Also present were construction supervisor Jennifer Paul of Maine Department of Transportation and Tom Reinauer of the Southern Maine Regional Planning Commission.
The first section was completed in the summer of 2011 by Coleman and Son of Conway. It begins at the Maine Visitor Information Center near the intersection of Haleytown Road and Route 302. The second section was constructed by R.J. Grondin and Sons of Gorham, Maine.
"It was a pretty smooth project," said Grondin project manager Hannes Schneider of Denmark, Maine, formerly of North Conway. "We started May 21, and completed it Sept. 14," said Schneider, who added his company next up will begin work on the new playing fields project for Fryeburg Academy.
In a followup interview, Kinsman said the Maine Central line was abandoned by Guilford Transportation Industries in 1994.
The state of Maine purchased the corridor in 1997 to preserve it. The Mountain Division Alliance was created to explore using it for alternate transportation and as a recreational path, while preserving the corridor for the rail line, should it ever return, says Kinsman.
Pending funding, the long-term goal is to connect the nine communities along the 52-mile corridor between Fryeburg and Portland.
Completed sections include a one-mile rec trail section in Portland, a six-mile path between Windham, Gorham and Standish, and the four miles in Fryeburg.
The town of Brownfield has applied for a three-mile section to connect with Fryeburg's. That request was not funded in the first go-round, but the town has applied again, said Kinsman.
He said engineering is now being done for an as-yet unfunded five-mile section between Windham and Standish.
Ultimately, he and others said they would like to see communities on the New Hampshire side of the rail corridor to take up the multi-use cause.
"There is a biking trail committee on your side of the border, headed by Sally McMurdo," said Kinsman.
The projects initially were funded through the federal Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991.
Although some question the spending of taxpayer dollars for such projects, Kinsman in a followup interview said, "Instead of looking at it as something that's unique, it's no different than any other park paid for by taxpayers. It's a linear park."